This is the news the Cincinnati Bengals were waiting for. Just over a year ago, they were sitting atop the NFL race to land a franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft, and they didn't overthink it. They made the decision to select Joe Burrow with the first overall pick and Burrow was off to the races, every bit as advertised coming off of what many view as the best collegiate football season ever at LSU. Unfortunately for Burrow, misfortune struck in what would've likely been a Rookie of the Year season, when he suffered a devastating knee injury in Week 11 against the Washington Football Team -- tearing both his ACL and MCL, as well as damaging his PCL and meniscus -- ending his season on the spot.
After undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee in December, he's now reportedly a lock to start in the Week 1 matchup on Sept. 12 against the Minnesota Vikings, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. He will likely sit out of preseason play on doctor's orders, but the start of the regular season is no longer in question.
"He's on track for full go for start of the season," the operating physician, Dr. Neal ElAttrache of Kerlan-Jobe in Los Angeles, told ESPN. "He's doing all the work. He's worked his tail off and been an amazingly mature participant in his recovery. He's focused and great to work with.
"... Notwithstanding the nature of his injury and extent of his reconstruction, his knee is performing perfectly. We just had him tested out here with a high-tech video and biomechanical evaluation and he was ahead of where we anticipated, and well into the return to performance phase of his recovery. With him already performing this way, it's 'all systems go' for the start of the season."
This news mirrors the expectation of head coach Zac Taylor, who was nothing short of optimistic in March.
"I know that he's on pace to do all the things that we were hoping he'd do," he said, via Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The Bengals struggled to a 2-7-1 record with Burrow under center, but it most certainly wasn't because of the Heisman Trophy winner, who passed for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns to five interceptions in his first 10 NFL starts.
He made a rookie mistake or two, and that was completely expected, but when a rookie QB throws for more than 300 yards in five of their first 10 games -- including topping the 400-yard mark on one occasion -- you have to take a hard look at the team's ineptitude in other areas (ahem, defense). Expect Cincinnati to work feverishly at resolving that this offseason, in the hopes of giving Burrow what he needs to start flipping those losses into wins going forward.
"I'm very optimistic about where I'm at and also where the team is at," Burrow told The Cris Collinsworth Podcast in April. "Rehab is going very, very well and lifting is going very, very well. I'm in great shape. Legs feel good; knee feels good.
"There's still a long way to go, but I'm expecting to be there on the first snap of 2021. I'm expecting to play Game 1. I expect to take part in practice. I'm feeling really good.
"I'm ahead of schedule. I can't roll out and throw yet, but it's feeling good right now."
And make no mistake about it, the Bengals are doing all they can to make sure that remains true for this and future seasons. They signed veteran offensive tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and didn't stop there, going on to add offensive tackles Jackson Carman and D'Ante Smith in the 2021 NFL Draft, along with rookie center Trey Hill. That's a lot of bodies being thrown at the offensive line in Cincinnati and rightfully so, given what they witnessed on November 22 when Burrow was carted off with the devastating knee injury that occurred on a play where he was trying to deliver a throw from inside a collapsed pocket.
Add in a new offensive weapon by way of the first-round nod to his former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase, and Burrow and the Bengals are looking forward to potentially taking the next step in 2021. It all begins with his health but, by all accounts, that is no longer a concern.