The Brandt Report

Joe Burrow's best fits after Bengals: Panthers, Bolts would work

Right now, according to conventional wisdom, Joe Burrow is a lock to be picked first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2020 NFL Draft.

But before you start picturing Burrow in stripes, think back to this time a year ago, when it might have seemed bold to suggest Kyler Murray would be picked first overall by the Cardinals, or to this time two years ago, when nary a mock draft had Baker Mayfield going to the Browns at No. 1. Remember, a lot can change between January and April. Indeed, the Bengals themselves -- as represented by director of player personnel Duke Tobin -- said they still have not made a decision about what to do with the No. 1 overall pick.

So while it might seem like an article covering the likely landing spots for Burrow should begin and end with the Bengals, at this early point in the pre-draft process, it's worth assembling a more open-minded list of teams that would serve as intriguing matches for the high-profile QB prospect. And I'm not just looking at teams with an obvious quarterback need. When I was in the Dallas Cowboys' front office, we tried to make sure we were regularly drafting quarterbacks. Keeping the caveat in mind that things could always be more fluid than they seem, there are some teams that could conceivably try to line Burrow up as their QB of the near future.

But before we get to the fits, let's take a look at Burrow as a prospect. Burrow grew up in Athens, Ohio, where his dad, Jim Burrow, a former football player at Nebraska, served as Ohio University's defensive coordinator. (The elder Burrow retired from coaching in 2019 so he could watch his son play.) After a stint as the backup quarterback at Ohio State, Burrow transferred to LSU and proceeded last season to throw for 5,671 yards and a record 60 touchdowns, collect the Heisman Trophy and lead LSU over Clemson in the national championship game.

Burrow is a very good pocket passer who can move and throw the ball on the run to escape pressure and keep plays alive. He has excellent accuracy (76.3 percent completion rate in 2019), touch and timing. Some might question his arm strength, but to me, that is not a concern -- it's similar to the arm strength of Daniel Jones, a quarterback whose body makeup Burrow resembles, and who played well as a rookie after being picked sixth overall by the Giants last year. Burrow excelled in the system run by Joe Brady, the ex-LSU passing game coordinator who has since been named offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. Burrow adjusted smoothly to the transfer from the Buckeyes to the Tigers, and he brings zero history of off-field problems with him to the NFL.

As with my list of best fits for Tua Tagovailoa, remember that the below list is not meant as a projection of where Burrow will be drafted or reflective of these teams' actual ability to acquire Burrow based on current draft capital; this is merely a list of teams that he'd fit with.

1) Cincinnati Bengals

This is the obvious best fit for Burrow, given that the Bengals need a quarterback and, with the first overall pick, would not have to give up any resources to draft him. The system that the Bengals run is very much like the Rams' system and the system that the Packers ran this year, and I think Burrow would fit very well on Zac Taylor's offense. Again, though, while conventional wisdom currently slots Burrow as the obvious Bengals pick, there's a chance they decide to do something else, even with their coaches speaking admiringly of Burrow in public.

2) Carolina Panthers

Carolina is likely in for a down season, and I think this team needs a quarterback as the Matt Rhule era begins, regardless of what the Panthers, who pick seventh overall, decide to do with Cam Newton for 2020. Is there any more appealing conceivable replacement for Newton than the hotshot who just won a title and the Heisman Trophy in new offensive coordinator Joe Brady's system at LSU? Coaches will sometimes go to great lengths to acquire linebackers who once played in their system; it would make tons of sense to reunite Brady and Burrow in Carolina, where Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel project as tantalizing playmaking targets.

3) Los Angeles Chargers

Signs continue to mount that Philip Rivers and the Chargersare on the verge of parting ways. If Rivers is indeed on his way out of Los Angeles, the Chargers would surely love to kick off the next chapter of their franchise history in a sparkling new stadium with a new quarterback, as I mentioned when I listed them as a fit for Tagovailoa. Burrow, one of college football's hottest stars, would bring legitimate sizzle as the sixth overall pick.

4) Miami Dolphins

I know I pegged the Dolphins, who will pick fifth, 18th and 26th, as the top landing spot for Tua Tagovailoa earlier this month, but they would also obviously be a great fit for Burrow. While any team would likely do its best to fit its approach to whichever quarterback it drafted, Brian Flores stands out as someone who is flexible enough to tailor his approach to both a pocket passer like Burrow and a more mobile quarterback like Tagovailoa.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston's future remains undecided as he heads toward free agency, coming off a season in which he became the sole member of the 30-TD/30-INT club. Burrow could be a great match for head coach Bruce Arians and the Bucs' receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. That said, I should note that Arians, who does tend to like older quarterbacks, could be swayed to sign Philip Rivers instead of using the 14th overall pick on a youngster.

6) Atlanta Falcons

We've reached the portion of the list featuring teams that have established veteran quarterbacks, meaning they might not be obvious fits for Burrow. But the trick with managing a transition from one quarterback to the next is to land the replacement before the need becomes urgent. After all, when the Chiefstraded up to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017, they were seemingly set with veteran QB Alex Smith -- and now, a little less than three years later, Mahomes is taking Kansas City to Super Bowl LIV. Matt Ryan performed well enough individually during the Falcons' down 2019, and he's less than two years removed from signing an extension that will carry him through 2023. But things change quickly in the NFL. Ryan is going to turn 35 in May, and while the Falconscommitted to one more run with Dan Quinn, it's reasonable to assume an organizational reboot could be in the offing, should things go south again in 2020. And while they could be in position to land their QB of the future down the road, they are within striking distance of potentially landing Burrow right now, even if they end up having to trade up from No. 16 overall. Is there a better backup plan than having Burrow ready to take the reins from Ryan in a year or two?

7) Pittsburgh Steelers

It's safe to say that the Steelers could have been a playoff team in 2019 if not for the absence of injured QB Ben Roethlisberger. As it was, Pittsburgh nearly made the postseason even while splitting time at quarterback between Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, largely on the strength of its defense. As with the Falcons, the Steelers would seem to be in solid shape in the near-term future, provided Roethlisberger comes back healthy. But then, Big Benis going to be 38 when the 2020 season starts, and there are just two more years left on his contract. Drafting Burrow to learn behind him could help them bridge eras without going through too much of a rebuilding lull -- he could rejuvenate the franchise in the same way Roethlisberger did when he fell to them in the 2004 draft. Drafting Burrow would require making some trades to get back into the first round, since Pittsburgh gave up its 2020 first-rounder in the trade that landed safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins -- but that trade itself is an example of the Steelers' willingness to do what is necessary to improve the team. Should Burrow fall within reach, and should they decide they like him, they should have no problem being bold enough to trade back into position to nab him for the future.

8) Detroit Lions

Before he suffered a back injury that ended his season in November, Matthew Stafford was playing some of the best football of his career, and it would be logical to use the third overall pick on a player who could help Detroit capitalize on its window under Stafford, especially given the pressure to win in 2020. General manager Bob Quinn told me on Sirius XM Radio that he's "totally comfortable" with Stafford as his starter next season. So, yes, it seems unlikely that the Lions would pull the trigger on Burrow, which is why they sit at the bottom of my list. All that said ... while Stafford had largely been the picture of durability until 2019, he's logged plenty of mileage and is turning 32 in February, meaning he's approaching the portion of a quarterback's career when long-term longevity becomes a question. And given that there are only two teams drafting in front of them, it would be very easy for them to make a Mahomes-style investment for the future, should Burrow end up within their reach.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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