While literally painful to Joe Burrow and figuratively painful to the Bengals organization, the rookie quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick tearing multiple knee ligaments in Week 11 significantly benefits the long-term future of both currently damaged parties.
With modern medical practices in the NFL, Burrow will (likely) be ready for the start of the 2021 campaign.
And he'll (likely) be protected by Oregon's prodigious left tackle Penei Sewell, the prospect the Bengals all but officially secured after Burrow's season-ending injury.
After Week 11, SportsLine gave the Bengals the second-longest Super Bowl odds, or, the second-best chance to obtain the No. 1 overall pick. And, if the draft were to be held tomorrow, Cincinnati would hold the third overall pick. While we know absolutely anything previously unimaginable can occur in 2020, the Jets and Jaguars can be penciled into the top two selections, and they're drafting quarterbacks, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and probably Ohio State's Justin Fields.
That'll leave the mighty Sewell for the Bengals, the next logical building block in the Bengals franchise renovation. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound phenom of phenoms surrendered just seven pressures on 491 pass-blocking snaps in 2019 for the Ducks after allowing eight on 215 of those plays as an 18-year-old true freshman the year before. He's staggeringly powerful and balanced, and his elite-level athleticism pops on screens and at the second level in the run game. Sewell is the real deal's more menacing brother. And he only turned 20 in October.
(If the Bengals somehow land at No. 2 overall, they could simply take Sewell. Or trade back a pick or two, obtain extra draft capital, and still secure the intimidating blocker.)
Cincinnati's offensive line has battled injuries this season and whichever group trotted out there wasn't exactly kind to Burrow. While the LSU legend was blessed with natural pocket-management brilliance and smooth athleticism, there's only so much shoddy offensive line play a rookie quarterback can withstand.
Below is a chart outlining the top 7 quarterbacks in percentage of drop backs with a pass attempt made in 2.5 seconds or less. Essentially, these quarterbacks are getting the ball out in a hurry quite often. The far right column lists the corresponding pressure rate for each passer with the league rank included, with the lowest percentage at the top out of 40 qualifying quarterbacks.
|% of drop backs with pass attempt under 2.5 seconds||Pressure Rate (Rank)|
|Joe Burrow||57.1||32.5 (23rd)|
On the surface, Burrow's 32.5% pressure rate wasn't atrocious -- 23rd lowest out of 40 -- yet he and the Bengals coaching staff made a concerted effort to get the football out of his hands in a hurry often to no avail. Essentially, it's rather difficult to allow such a high pressure rate as an offensive line when your quarterback is routinely throwing the football quickly. The Bengals blocking unit accomplished that feat.
Jonah Williams, the team's first-round pick in 2019 who missed all of that season with injury, has played well -- not amazing, not poorly -- in pass protection at left tackle in his redshirt rookie season. He's allowed just one sack and 18 total pressures on 353 pass-block snaps. With another offseason to get stronger, he'll take the next step. But his second playing season in the NFL will come with a move to the right side given Sewell's presence.
At that point, Burrow, reconstructed knee and all, will step into the pocket with sturdy outside walls, a blessing for the youthful and uber-talented passer who just needs a little more time to operate.
Playing in the AFC North, Burrow will see the Ravens and Steelers four times per season. Currently, no club has generated a quarterback pressure on more plays than Pittsburgh (174) and the Ravens are second in the NFL in number of defensive plays with a blitz sent (172) after leading the league in blitz rate a season ago. Oh, and Myles Garrett roams in Cleveland. He's bound to be a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The worst-case scenario for the Bengals to end their 2020 season would've actually been Burrow willing the team to a few more wins to push it outside the top 3 in the 2021 draft. A selection outside the top 5 will be far from guaranteed -- see: unlikely -- to be able to become Sewell after the run on quarterbacks at the outset of the draft. The Chargers and Washington Football Team will be in the left tackle market. Having a pick higher than those clubs is vital for the Bengals and Burrow's development.
Burrow can develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But he needs to be protected better. We all know that. And because of his direct job, Sewell will be nearly as important to the Cincinnati franchise as Burrow himself.
(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted)