All eyes will be on Joe Burrow when the NFL kicks off its 2020 season. That's the price of admission when you're not only the first-overall pick in the NFL draft, but also one of -- if not the -- most heralded prospect to ever come out of the collegiate ranks. Burrow is coming off of arguably the best season in college football history, which includes winning both the Heisman and a national championship, making it a no-brainer the Bengals would sit tight atop the draft and select him as the new face of their ailing franchise. And with his selection comes instant comparisons to previous NFL legends, including one to Kurt Warner, who actually doesn't disagree with them whatsoever.
As a matter of fact, he enjoys it.
"I actually had seen that a couple times out there -- people making that comparison," Warner told Arizona Sports' Doug & Wolf. "And I kind of like it, based on what I've seen. If you go back and look at what they did at LSU, 80% of the time, they went five out. Five-man protection, get everybody out, put it in the quarterback's hands, deal the football.
"The accuracy part of it, the ability to make the throw down the field. But where he thrived was quick decisions, accuracy and decision-making. And that, to me, is exactly how I played the game."
That's one hell of a salute to Burrow, who has tons of NFL potential but hasn't yet stepped on the field for a single snap. If he can produce a pro football career that is even remotely comparable to that of Warner, the Bengals should enjoy quite the eventual turnaround from the 2-14 record posted in Zac Taylor's first year as the team's head coach in 2019. Unlike Burrow, Warner was an undrafted talent, but he clawed his way to greatness, throwing for 32,244 yards and 208 touchdowns to only 128 interceptions over the course of his illustrious career, landing a slew of awards that include two league MVP honors, a Super Bowl win, a nod as Super Bowl MVP and a bust in Canton, Ohio.
The former leader of 'The Greatest Show on Turf' believes Burrow can truly help change the culture in Cincinnati, but only if they allow him to showcase his entire skill set -- versus attempting to fit him into a system.
As Warner explains, in his NFL days, he was the system.
"If you gave me one thing on the field and said, 'Hey, we've got to play the whole game this way', I'm saying, 'We're going five out, and we're going to block five and we're going to put the pressure on the defense, and you leave it up to me to make those decisions and get the ball to my playmakers,'" he said.
He sees the same glow from Burrow, based on what he did in Baton Rouge.
"[That] is very much what LSU did in that great season that he had last year," Warner said. "So I like the comparisons."
Needless to say, and in stating the glaringly obvious, Burrow has his work cut out for him with the Bengals.
The club hasn't made the playoffs in the past six seasons and haven't advanced past the AFC wild card round since 1991. At one point, things were looking up for the team, when Andy Dalton led them to five consecutive playoff appearances following the transition from Carson Palmer, with Dalton's first wild card appearance coming in his first year with the Bengals -- as the team's 35th-overall pick in 2011. For all of his regular season success, Dalton could never overcome his playoff demons, and his time in Cincinnati ended in unceremonious fashion. He was benched by Taylor, then eventually re-named as starter but ultimately released and signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a backup for Dak Prescott.
Dalton was able to turn the Bengals around from 4-12 to 9-7 as a rookie, and the team is hoping for similar if not more success from Burrow. Warner warns of coming growing pains though, and his message to Burrow is simple, but poignant.
"If you get shellacked in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, just keep fighting," he said. "Because [the Bengals] are a couple steps behind, personnel-wise. There's a reason they're drafting number one, it's because they're a couple years away. So just come in and know that it's gong to be a rough start from the jump."