What to Expect When Joe Burrow Returns

Nov 22, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs with the ball against the Washington Football Team at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s first overall draft pick, Joe Burrow, had an excellent start to his rookie season before an unfortunate injury in week 11 forced the young quarterback to be sidelined. Burrow successfully underwent surgery in early December and as of right now, it seems the Bengals are hopeful for him to be the starter in week one of the upcoming season.

Here are a few things to expect when the former Heisman Trophy winner returns to the field in 2021.

More Passing Yards

Burrow has thrown for a lot of yards in his career both at LSU, and now in the NFL. In 2020 he threw for 2,688 total yards in 10 games. That gave him an average of 268.8 passing yards per game, which was the 7th best in the league, ahead of players like Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson in that category. 

Does that mean Burrow is a better passer than these players? Of course not, but it does go to show just how proficiently he was throwing the ball before the injury. In the 6 games Cincinnati played without Burrow at the helm, the team averaged around 162.7 yards per game, much lower than the 10 games prior. 

Even with the departure of A.J. Green, and an offensive line that is in dire need of improvement, Joe Burrow will be one of the league’s better passers in 2021.

A Lot of Tee Higgins

Just watch any highlights of a Bengals game last season and you’ll hear a lot of Tee Higgins’ name being called. Higgins started 14 games for Cincinnati in his rookie year, ending the season with 67 receptions, 908 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

In the games that he played with Burrow, Higgins averaged 75.5 yards and caught 4 touchdowns. Add two touchdown grabs later in the season, and Higgins was tied for second with Giovani Bernard in total points scored for the Bengals with 36.

The connection is already established, and with A.J. Green and John Ross no longer with the team, it’s easy to imagine the second-year receiver being Burrow’s number one option.

RPO Galore

The run-pass option brought a lot of success to Joe Burrow and the 2019 LSU team, and he’s seen positive results with it during his short time with the Bengals.

If you’re the Bengals, it makes sense to run a lot of RPO’s. As mentioned above, they have a quarterback that had one of the best college football seasons ever with his team using an RPO play about 22% of the time. Add in a healthy Joe Mixon or Giovani Bernard and you seemingly can’t go wrong.

A More Competitive Bengals Team

We saw early in the 2020 season that Cincinnati was a competitive team. 6 of their first 10 games ended up being decided by one score or less, all with the rookie quarterback starting.

Much of this is thanks to Burrow’s ability to make quick and smart plays even with no help from his offensive line that allowed pressure on 32.3% of his dropbacks, and a defense that allowed 26.5 points per game.

The team has already taken steps through free agency to fill holes on the defense, and they have the draft picks to improve the offense if done correctly. With all of this, plus a full season from Burrow and Joe Mixon, the Bengals could start to emerge as a competitive force in the NFL.