QB Klassroom: LSU QB Joe Burrow, Part Two




 

Situational Accuracy

Outside the Pocket: 1/2 (plus 1 throwaway)

Under Pressure: 5/7 (1 TD, plus 1 throwaway)

Red Zone: 4/6 (3 TD)

3rd/4th Down: 8/10 (2 TD, 6 conversions)

Forced Adjustments: 3

Total Throwaways: 1

Two months ago, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was a first-time pupil in the QB Klassroom. By that point in the season, Burrow had taken hold of the nation's attention, but with the draft so far away and so many narratives yet to unfold, there was little talk of him becoming the eventual No.1 overall pick. Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa was still the presumptive No.1 pick and Oregon's Justin Herbert still had some semblance of an argument over Burrow, if for nothing else but a much larger sample size than Burrow's six or so fantastic games. With most of 2019 in the books now, it's fair to say Burrow has elevated himself from first-round pick to first-overall lock.

The appeal with Burrow is how pro-ready he is. Everything about Burrow's game screams high floor and the ability to step in right away to handle an NFL offense. Burrow is composed, calculated, and wonderfully accurate. Even without a fantastic arm to pull off flashy throws, Burrow has everything it takes to keep an NFL offense chugging along as a rookie.

Burrow showed off all those traits against Georgia over the weekend. Specifically, Burrow proved his ability to handle blitzes, pressure, and chaotic pockets to neutralize an aggressive defense. The senior passer was not going to let some tricky blitzes and free rushers derail him from taking home the SEC title.

Minus the play in which he somehow caught his own pass, Burrow was accurate on 8-of-11 passes (with two touchdowns) on plays in which Georgia brought five or more pass-rushers. Not all of those blitzes got home with pressures, but that speaks, in part, to Burrow's ability to diagnose the blitz and beat it before it beats him. One of Burrow's throws to a running back versus a blitz package perfectly illustrated his ability to handle extra rushers.

Let's start with the screenshot above. Georgia are showing three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and a pseudo-linebacker/safety at about eight yards deep. That's a light box, especially considering LSU are in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end). Georgia have their slot corner creeped up well inside of the slot receiver, though, with the safety to that side capped directly over that receiver at 10-yards deep. That's a pretty strong tell that Georgia is blitzing that slot cornerback. Burrow should know he is getting four pass-rushers, at a minimum, between the three defensive linemen and the blitzing corner from the field. If Burrow identifies any extra rusher beyond that, he should know that he probably has to throw hot.

As Burrow is getting through his drop back, he sees a blitzing linebacker through the B gap (between guard and tackle). With the linebacker confirmed as a blitzer, Burrow now has information that Georgia only have one potential immediate defender (the cornerback) to cover two potential offensive threats (wide receiver in a tight split and running back). Burrow starts to feel the heat from the blitzing linebacker and rips a pass to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire slipping out of the backfield. Edwards-Helaire bent his route slightly inward to "replace" the blitzing linebacker for Burrow. Toughing out the hit to make it happen, Burrow is able to find his guy in the vacated area and enable Edwards-Helaire to scoot to a first down.

Sticking to a similar tune, Burrow's pocket instincts and management help construct the high floor for his game. Burrow has what feels like a sixth-sense for knowing where bodies are coming from in the pocket and how to best avoid them. Whether Burrow needs to make that assessment at a moment's notice or has time to carefully maneuver through the pocket, the senior star consistently proves he can problem solve in the pocket like no other quarterback in this class.

It depends on how you define blitzes for this to count as one, but regardless, Georgia get a free rusher on this play. LSU's protection moves to the right, while one of Georgia's defensive ends attacks the left tackle's outside shoulder and the defensive tackle attacks the A-gap between the left guard and center. With the left side of a line sliding to the right all occupied, Georgia's rushing linebacker is afforded a free lane to the quarterback. Burrow gets virtually zero time to react to this and is forced to move as soon as his back foot hits the end of his drop back. Miraculously, Burrow pivots on that back foot to duck and flip his shoulders away from the free rusher. After stumbling out of the initial sack attempt, Burrow is met by another defender, which effectively ends any reasonable chance of a throw and forces a run. 13 yards later, Burrow slides down beyond the sticks for a fresh set of downs on a play that probably should have lost eight yards. Burrow isn't quite Russell Wilson, but that's one heck of an imitation.

In instances where Burrow gets a bit of time to process how the pocket is unfolding and bend to its will, his movement is just as impressive. It's not just that Burrow navigates around a few defenders to escape a broken pocket, it's the precision with which he does it. Each of Burrow's movements set up a decision for the next movement and he splices them all together so effortlessly that it comes together as one smooth action.

Georgia come with another four-man rush that features a second-level defender getting sent as a delayed rusher. To LSU's right side, Georgia run a nose-over-end stunt that asks the defensive end to crash toward the inside gap while the defensive tackle loops around the edge to replace him. The crashing end earns just enough of an advantage to slip through the line and attack Burrow in the middle of the pocket. Burrow slides over to the right to get behind his offensive lineman, maintaining a low, flexible base the whole way through. With how springy and flexible Burrow kept his base after the slide, he is able to bounce back into an upright position immediately while sliding up in the pocket. Burrow takes one more hitch up in the pocket as a last-ditch effort to find an open throw before bailing the pocket he knows is broken. Again Burrow is able to slip past the Georgia defense for a first down.

Burrow's knack for constantly keeping himself free of defenders in the pocket is arguably his best trait aside from accuracy. It's rare for Burrow to be overwhelmed or outsmarted in the pocket - he always feels one step ahead of the opponent and has plenty of athletic ability to act on his instincts.

For as impressive as all of Burrow's floor-setting traits are, his ceiling might be somewhat capped by his arm strength. That is not to say Burrow has a bad arm or one that will hold him back from being a good NFL quarterback, but because his arm lacks the zip of some other top-flight NFL QBs, he may end up leaving a few passes on the field as a result of defenders being able to catch up to the ball. Granted, Burrow can often make up for this with impeccable ball placement and arc, but there are and will be instances where velocity is a must and he just doesn't have it.

The wide receiver should not be forced to slow his stride and work back to fight for the ball in the air on this play. Burrow lets this pass flutter a bit and it loses much of its steam on the way down, allowing the defender to close the gap after he was a little over an arm's length away before the wide receiver started to slow down. Had Burrow either fired this ball with a little more juice to the exact same spot, the ball would have arrived in stride to the receiver before the cornerback could regain his ground. Or, Burrow could have tried to put this throw a bit deeper toward the back of the end zone, but it's possible the same issue of velocity would have showed up there, too. Either way, Burrow put this throw on it's mark just a bit late because of his middling velocity and it cost the Tigers a touchdown.

A decent compare/contrast subject for Burrow with respect to arm strength is former Duke and current New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. In terms of raw arm strength and velocity, the two are about the same, but one has the tools to make up for it (Burrow) while the other does not (Jones). Jones has an average-ish arm that often looks worse because of his late processing and overall mediocre ball placement. Burrow has the opposite effect, where his average-ish arm often looks better than it is because he plays with such impeccable timing within the system and throws with fantastic touch.

Again, Burrow's arm strength "issues" should not sink the overall quality of prospect that he is. His arm is above the NFL threshold and harping on plays like the one above is nitpicky, but that's the quality of player Burrow is. It's tough to poke holes in his game to suggest he's no good, so the flaw-finding becomes about gauging his ceiling. It's fine for Burrow to be an all-around excellent prospect despite arm strength that hovers around average.

After (nearly) a full season of dominant play, I feel comfortable likening Burrow to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is a decent-not-great athlete whose defining traits are accuracy, pocket management, and sharp decision making. Ryan is not the most exciting, daring, or talented quarterback around, but he checks every box and executes so well on a down-to-down basis that booming arm strength to make highlight throws is not necessary for him to play at an MVP level. The third-overall pick in 2008, Ryan was an above-average QB for most of his career before blossoming into elite territory.

Expecting Burrow to hit the "elite" gear Ryan has in recent seasons may be a bit optimistic, but it's well within reason to expect Burrow to be the above-average quarterback Ryan was for most of his career. Every team would be happy with that version of Ryan as their quarterback.

All signs point to Burrow being the first-overall pick. Even a dominant pass-rusher such as Ohio State's Chase Young should not stop that from happening. Barring a total collapse of some sort during the pre-draft process, expect Burrow to be the first player to walk on stage to collect his draft-day hat in April.

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