Expert Analysis


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Have We Crowned the Wrong Young QB? Why I’d Take Burrow Over Herbert

Have We Crowned the Wrong Young QB? Why I’d Take Burrow Over Herbert

Throwing for 525 yards against Baltimore has served as a catalyst for praising Joe Burrow. But as good as his performance was Sunday, it should not have been necessary for the second-year QB to get the recognition he deserves. People seem to forget how good Burrow was as a rookie prior to getting hurt. This year, he has also been excellent all season, and he’s done so with a poor offensive line throughout his career.

I have been steadfast in my belief in Joe Burrow, both before and after his rookie season. My stance predates Burrow’s performance against Baltimore, and it will remain irrespective of how Cincinnati does the rest of the way.

To be clear, Burrow and Herbert are two of the best young quarterbacks we’ve seen in quite some time. My preference being Burrow does not mean that Herbert is anything short of excellent; I’m nitpicking that Burrow is the better of two outstanding options.

Specifically, I think Burrow’s accuracy, processing, and instincts separate him from Herbert and the other young QBs in the league. When discussing the old “if I was starting a team with one player” type question, I don't think there are many names ahead of Burrow. And if you factor in age, there’s no player 25 or younger that I’d prefer over him. 

You could watch the college tape and see him throw the ball very well and accurately, but the most impressive thing is how quickly he's seeing everything. This has become increasingly clear with his NFL play, due to the speed of the game. He just has incredible instincts and feel for the sport, along with extremely quick processing. Of course, he also has a spectacular arm and is very accurate with the ball. 

It’s hard to think of another quarterback about whom you could say all of those things were true, and with the level of enthusiasm that Burrow warrants. It’s also hard to express how difficult it is to master the mental part of the game so quickly. Given the question marks surrounding his offensive line, it should be almost impossible for him to play this well this early into his career. 


Let’s take a look at some plays from Burrow that illustrate how impressive his play has been…

The below pass from Week 11 against the Raiders demonstrates his decision-making and how quickly he can process and see everything. Immediately after the play action fake to Mixon, he hits Chase in stride on the slant. There’s no hesitation. 

Burrow’s decisiveness has been clear since he entered the NFL. His deep ball accuracy, however, has improved from last season to now. In the following play from 2020, Burrow overthrows A.J. Green on what would have been a touchdown. 

There are a plethora of examples of Burrow’s deep ball prowess from this season. But compare the above throw to Green to the below pass to Chase, and it’s clear how much he’s improved. Burrow drops the ball in a bucket on this 34-yard pass against Detroit. 

While Burrow has rekindled the connection with Chase, he has also made every Bengals WR better, giving them opportunities to thrive. Take the below throw to Tee Higgins as an example. Burrow gets rid of the ball quickly and gives Higgins a chance to make a play. Notice that despite throwing into double-coverage, he puts the ball in a spot where only Higgins can catch it. 


A lot of mistakes are made in evaluations because people think stats will determine who’s better. This is especially a mistake with the QB position. You can find some terrible quarterbacks that actually have good numbers over some stretch of games. The opposite is also true — great QBs can have poor numbers over a stretch of games. Likewise, the most important things that quarterbacks do involve decision-making, leadership, processing, and throwing to the right guy. None of these things are found in the stats.  

Despite that, there are some stats that seem to have predictive value. One such example is completion percentage over expected (CPOE). The thought process behind it is that not all completions are created equal. A 40-yard throw with little separation is far more difficult than a screen pass, yet traditional completion percentage doesn’t account for this. CPOE, however, determines a player’s expected completion percentage based on the difficulty of his throws, then subtracts this number from his actual completion percentage. The result is completion percentage over expected. 

Burrow leads the NFL in this metric, indicating his overall accuracy and his ability to complete difficult throws. 


Burrow is not only a difference-making starter; he also elevates the entire team around him. There are a limited number of players in the NFL who can do this, and it isn’t a cliche. It’s a really valuable trait, and if you only could have one guy on your team able to do this, you would want it to be the QB. 

Time will tell if Burrow ends up being an A- or A+ quarterback, but he has a real shot at being in the top end of that group. Herbert is also very impressive, but I see hesitancy and accuracy issues with him that I don’t see with Burrow. For all of these reasons, I’d rather build my team around the Bengals signal-caller.