With April comes the turn of the annual football spotlight to fall on the young men jockeying for position in the NFL draft, their eyes firmly set on pro football. Since joining the league, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has been a tremendous success on and off the field. I’ll hone in on the traits that made NFL scouts buzz before
Burrow entered the NFL draft, and why there's a pathway to success for anyone with these attributes in the class of 2022. Burrow’s Fundamental Traits
Work Ethic: At Ohio State, Burrow held his own against linebacker Peter Warner, now with the New Orleans Saints, in a tire tug of war. Bruce Feldman from The Athletic describes how as a quarterback trying to establish himself after transferring to LSU, Burrow challenged defensive star, Devin White, to a fight. He was recently asked what advice he’d give to young athletes. His response spoke volumes: “Don’t have a workout and post it on Instagram. Work in silence.” Star quarterbacks are often afforded an easier ride than their teammates. A hallmark of Burrow’s time at LSU and Cincinnati to date was going to camp early with a phenomenal workrate that set the standard for the team.
Humility: Individual accolades don’t interest Joe Burrow. Having been awarded the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2021 after a horrendous ACL tear that overshadowed his rookie season, Burrow left the trophy on the stage after accepting the award. The Super Bowl was the only prize he came to LA to take home.
Character: The necessity of perseverance and overcoming adversity in football is too often emphasised to the point of tedium and overstatement. Burrow was the third string Ohio State took after high school. He moved to LSU and within 18 months he had won a national championship and the Heisman Trophy. He took the initial setback on the chin and accentuated the positives from the experience. Life should really be about that.
Accomplishments: That Burrow had the Bengals in the Super Bowl in just his second year might seem remarkable even to those who’ve been around him. Then again, it only took him two years to turn LSU into a national title team. Heart and workrate are important. Being supremely talented can tip the balance in your favor.
Locker Room impact: Joe Burrow’s impact in two years at LSU and two years in the Bengals locker room is legendary. He leads his team to a national title in Baton Rouge, overseeing a historic offense in the process. He then enjoyed a trip to the Super Bowl in only his second NFL season, after an ACL tear. Arguably the intangibles that Burrow brings to the Bengals behind the scenes are the most important. He’s created an environment where those around him have got the best of their talents and bought into the winning culture Burrow has instilled. Players and personnel talk about the uncanny ability to relate to other people. He’s galvanised a downtrodden franchise and the proud city of Cincinnati. When you think Burrow you think positive: a leader and force for good.
Style: Burrow’s style is authentic and even a throwback to a quarterback from a different era. By my actions not my words. Tough as teak, obdurate, with a mentality that unites the locker room. He is a quarterback who plays like a linebacker and inspires others. In many respects, Burrow feels like a link between the league of Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, and the era of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Burrow is an interesting character in front of the cameras though. While he doesn’t show off on the camera or post videos for fans on TikTok or YouTube, he’s never been afraid to walk confidently. Witness his rimless shades and Joe Namarth-esque winter coats. He’s not shy about putting his stamp on the occasion.
The Standard of Performance
Analysts and scouts constantly talk about whether talented young players love football enough to make it in the NFL. Most players are incredibly driven, but the intensity of the challenge and the spotlight in the professional ranks can be unforgiving. Many young prospects can’t resist the temptations and distractions that come with the prestige and currency of being a big time football star. Take one of the star players in the coming 2022 NFL draft. A year ago, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux was considered the best edge rusher in the country and a likely number one pick. Now his draft stock is plummeting. Stories abound that he's a supremely talented player but he has too many outside football interests from Name Image Likeness (NIL) investments to spotty effort on the field. All players to some extent have some question marks hanging over them heading into the draft. NFL scouts don’t evaluate college players and think they're the finished article. The prospect needs to show a body of evidence that they improved with each season in college. If they can demonstrate the same level of improvement at each stage of pro football, that’s what makes them coveted and likely to succeed.
Coaches and players strike the same notes when describing Joe Burrow. A crystal clear recall on the detail for all his plays. Laser focus and incredibly mature. After he toured Baton Rouge, the LSU staff concluded that he was the smartest guy in the room.
“It’s rare what he has,” Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “It’s hard to describe. That’s the best way to put it. It’s hard to describe. You have to experience the full scope of it to really understand it.”
Not everyone needs to be like Joe Burrow. All the same, the incoming draft class should take note. His traits have a time-honored way of working out in the NFL.