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The development of a first-round quarterback is as much about not ruining it as it is putting it in a position to succeed.
A team can have the right system in place and a lot of talent in the right positions. But if the young signalman is not properly protected and under constant stress, he will never excel. Offensive online play tends to be overlooked when it comes to quarterback progression. A disappointing five front can ruin talent prospects. Ask Tim Couch or David Carr.
Enter the Cincinnati Bengals and this year’s number one choice, Joe Burrow.
The Bengals have made the right choice with the choice, but lack the investment up front to properly protect their new franchise quarterback.
Burrow has just had the biggest season in college football history with the LSU Tigers. The native of southern Ohio won the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Prize, the Davey O’Brien Prize, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Prize, the Manning Prize, the Lombardi Prize, the Walter Camp Prize and a national championship during the undefeated campaign of the Tigers.
The pocket presence, anticipation and Burrow touch displayed during the 2019 campaign have not been seen by a quarterback in the past 20 years.
But great performances are often accompanied by other remarkable ones. The wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson could not be covered. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has emerged as a first-round ball carrier with exceptional receiving abilities. The tight ends Thaddeus Moss and Stephen Sullivan are both on the NFL lists.
The LSU performers were able to excel because they played behind one of the best offensive lines in college football.
Center Lloyd Cushenberry III and right goalkeeper Damien Lewis heard their names called in the third round. The two will have the opportunity to start as rookies. Left tackler Saahdiq Charles left the table on the next lap. Left goalkeeper Adrian Magee signed an unwritten free agent agreement with the New Orleans Saints. Right forward Austin Deculus, meanwhile, returned for his senior season with the potential of being selected for the 2021 NFL draft.
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Burrow had the second longest average time to run in the SEC last season despite the third-lowest average blocker in protection, according to SEC Stat Cat. The quarterback was deadly in a clean pocket.
The LSU-via-Ohio State product topped all quarters eligible for the project with a completion percentage of 79.3 in a clean pocket, per Pro Football Focus. In fact, Burrow led all the collegiate callers with one 94.9 grade when he is allowed to stand and not be pressured.
He also excelled outside the structure. The 6’3 ” 221 lb quarterback is an exceptional all-rounder. As Anthony Treash of PFF pointed out in December, Burrow did better under pressure than 84 FBS quarters in a clean pocket. He’s really special.
However, the 23-year-old signalman enters a situation where his protection will be less than brilliant, and asking him to produce at similar or almost similar levels against NFL athletes is another matter entirely.
The Bengals will receive a significant boost to their offensive line thanks to Jonah Williams’ return from last year’s late season labrum tear. Williams was the best offensive tackle hope in the 2019 class, but he never played a low blow during his rookie campaign. Obviously, growth pains will occur with a first starter, but his talent and technique presage an excellent tackle left.
The rest of the top five in Cincinnati are suspect at best.
Trey Hopkins signed a $ 20.4 million three-year extension in December the day before his 16th departure. Hopkins found a home in the center, but he shouldn’t be considered a top performer. Reliability is one thing. Excellence is another. Yet it is all in one piece.
Michael Jordan, Billy Price, Alex Redmond and Fred Johnson are young options to start on the right guard or tackle. Jordan, Price and Redmond did not play well last season, when Johnson started a game in week 17.
Bobby Hart, who signed a three-year extension of $ 16.2 million in the past season, remains one of the worst tackles to the right in the league as he constantly gives in too much pressure.
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The organization did not urgently attack the post in free agency either.
Xavier Su’a-Filo signed a $ 9 million three-year contract. The six-year veteran is an experienced beginner, but has been more of a placeholder than an established presence.
Cincinnati’s approach to building its offensive line can be summed up in a quote from Vice President Troy Blackburn, last off-season:
“For those of you who say you shouldn’t have signed Bobby Hart, who’s going to play the right tackle?” Who? Oh, maybe you will draft one in the third round and it will come. Really? Are you going to bet your season on this? We can still fish someone. We haven’t received the draft yet. But you cannot criticize. In our business, you have to solve the problem. ”
This year’s project has arrived. The previous evils can be forgiven with an intelligent approach. With Burrow already in tow, the Bengals should have done everything in their power to properly protect the quarterback. They did not do it.
Two attacking tackles with a capacity in the first round – Josh Johnson of Houston and Ezra Cleveland of Boise State – fell to the Bengals with the 33rd pick in total. None became the choice.
Instead, player personnel manager Duke Tobin chose Clemson’s wide receiver, Tee Higgins. Higgins is a talented option for creating an exceptional large receptor body. At the same time, his selection should be considered a luxury with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross III and Auden Tate already on the list.
Jones and a few talented interior blockers were still available at the start of the third round.
Yet the Bengals passed them all on once more. We shouldn’t expect all the third rounds to start, as Blackburn said, but Jones, Damien Lewis and Lloyd Cushenberry III are scheduled starters for their new teams. The three could have immediately helped the Bengals, who chose linebacker Logan Wilson of Wyoming with 65th overall.
To make matters worse, Cincinnati waited until the sixth round before finally selecting Kansas’ Hakeem Adeniji for development.
The Bengals can surely and will do certain things to compensate for this potential problem.
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The skill positions are quite talented with the wide receivers mentioned above, the ball carrier Joe Mixon and the tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Drew Sample. Burrow should also go well to Zac Taylor’s attacking system.
“We have a lot of similarities with their passing game. Lots of NFL offenses do that, “said Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan on the LSU offense in January. He added, “You see a lot of concepts of professional passes in their attack, and they did a very good job. But these are things that you see in the league. These are all things that fit very well with what we do and a lot of people do. “
In addition, staff can add more hobby option concepts, extend the set of quick passes, increase crossing routes, and work almost entirely from a shotgun to ease the transition.
These things will only do a lot behind a crumbling offensive line that finished in the bottom 10 last season by dropping 48 sacks.
The return of Williams after an injury, as well as the additions of Su’a-Filo and Adeniji, is not enough to build a secure cockpit for such a talented passer-by.
In a year, a predictable question will be asked: how will the Bengals protect Terrier?
The fact that Cincinnati will be forced to attack the offensive line next year shows exactly how it failed to protect the franchise’s biggest investment.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.