Cincinnati Bengals take Joe Burrow with No. 1 pick in NFL draft
8:25 PM ET
  • Ben BabyESPN Staff Writer

    • ESPN Staff Writer
    • Previously a college football writer for The Dallas Morning News
    • University of North Texas graduate

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals have their next franchise quarterback.

Months of speculation ended on Thursday when the Bengals selected former LSU standout Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. With this year’s event taking place virtually because of COVID-19, Burrow celebrated with his family and put on a Bengals’ hat from his home in Athens County, Ohio.

It was quite the rise for a player whom ESPN’s Mel Kiper had pegged as a sixth-round draft pick entering the season. And Burrow said on ESPN’s draft broadcast that he would have laughed if someone told him he’d be the top player selected at that time.

“I would have told you you were crazy,” he told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “I knew I was going to have a really good season … but to jump up to No. 1 overall is crazy to me. But it’s a dream come true.”

Burrow said the key to his success was simple.

“I wasn’t very good my junior year, it’s pretty simple. I worked really hard to get better,” Burrow said. “… I just wasn’t as good as I was my senior year, but I worked really hard to improve.”

Bengals’ president Mike Brown officially welcomed Burrow to Cincinnati on Wednesday when he sent Burrow a letter that said, amongst other things, that he looks forward “to building championship football teams with you for many years to come.” Brown also sent Burrow and his parents No. 9 Bengals jerseys — which is the number that he will be wearing in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati finished 2-14 in 2019, which gave the club the top slot in the first round. The Bengals hadn’t been in that position since 2003, when they drafted USC‘s Carson Palmer with the top overall pick.

Even though Cincinnati didn’t have a private workout with Burrow because of the global coronavirus pandemic, the 23-year-old had plenty of tape from his final year at LSU that showed why he was the first quarterback selected in this year’s draft.

In 2019, Burrow won the Heisman Trophy after completing a staggering 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns — the most ever by an FBS quarterback. He led LSU through an undefeated season; the Tigers beat Clemson to win their first national championship since 2007. Burrow’s Total QBR of 94.9 led all quarterbacks last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

Burrow and Cam Newton (2011) are the only quarterbacks since 1967 to be the top draft pick right after winning both the Heisman and the national championship. Newton capped his collegiate career at Auburn with the national title before being drafted by the Carolina Panthers.

When the Bengals convene to start in-person workouts, Burrow is expected to compete for the starting job immediately. Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, who has been the franchise’s primary starter since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, is entering the final year of his contract. The Bengals are not expected to have the space for Dalton’s $17.7 million hit against the salary cap.

Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the longest drought in the NFL. The Bengals are looking for their first postseason appearance since 2015.

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