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Why Joe Burrow Will Be a Top-10 Fantasy Quarterback

The prevailing strategy that has taken over fantasy football is to wait on quarterback. Given the depth of the position, many fantasy players are focused on addressing other positions on their roster before selecting their QB1. This strategy allows you to construct a roster filled with depth at wide receiver and running back. If you’re able to hit on your QB, you’re well-positioned for a championship. 

There have been several recent examples of home-run picks with QBs past round six. Last year, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Jameis Winston each provided strong production at a value. In 2018, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff excelled despite being selected in the later rounds. This year, there are several undervalued QBs on my radar, such as Matthew Stafford, Daniel Jones, and Gardner Minshew II, but my favorite has to be rookie Joe Burrow

Burrow checks off all of the boxes you look for when searching for a value quarterback. He has a strong supporting cast filled with an impressive array of weapons. The Cincinnati Bengals project as a weak defense, providing shootout opportunities. Burrow enters his rookie season as one of the more pro-ready prospects in recent memory. His athleticism allows for rushing upside. The Bengals have several enticing matchups during the fantasy playoffs. The team should also see improvement in their offensive line. When you add up each of these factors, you can't help but come away intrigued with his potential in 2020. In fact, I'm convinced Burrow is going to finish as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in his rookie season.

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Strong Supporting Cast

Burrow will have opportunities to thrive with the strong supporting cast in this offense. A.J. Green is coming off consecutive injury-plagued seasons, but he’s still only turning 32 with some fuel left in the tank. Don’t forget that in 2018, he put up 46 REC, 694 YDS, and six TD on 77 TGTS in nine games. Green should be foaming at the mouth to play with such a talented young quarterback after missing so many games. Tyler Boyd has established himself as one of the premier slot receivers in the NFL. He’s coming off a career year, posting 90 REC, 1,046 YDS, and 5 TDS on 148 TGTS in 16 games. Green’s return should clear out defenders for Boyd to wreak havoc in the slot. 

Rookie Tee Higgins would have likely gone in the first round in most drafts, falling to the second round due to the stacked 2020 WR class. He put up an impressive 28 contested catches in his college career. John Ross II has had a disappointing career, but he’s still only turning 25. Ross is a burner with insane 4.22 speed, giving him the ability to take the top off an opposing defense. He showed flashes early in the 2019 season, putting up 16 REC, 316 YDS, and three TD in the first four games before his season was interrupted by a broken collarbone.

Joe Mixon looks ready to take off in his age-24 season. He finished 2019 on a dominant stretch that included 994 total yards and five TD in his last eight games. Burrow has an impressive arsenal at his disposal.

 

Weak Defense

The Bengals had a weak defense in 2019, giving up 6.1 yards per play (32nd), 42.6% 3rd down conversion rate (25th), 7.8 passing yards per attempt (tied-32nd), and 4.7 rushing yards per attempt (24th). The team signed defensive tackle D.J. Reader, a run-stuffing nose tackle that will eat up blockers, cornerback Trae Waynes, a disappointing former first-rounder, Mackensie Alexander, another cornerback to add depth to the secondary,  safety Vonn Bell, another depth addition at defensive back, and linebacker Josh Bynes, a player that should help on special teams.

They also drafted three linebackers: Logan Wilson (third round), Akeem Davis-Gaither (fourth round), and Markus Bailey (seventh round), to go along with defensive end Khalid Kareem (fifth round). Lou Anarumo returns as the defensive coordinator. These new additions will attempt to replace departing cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as linebacker Nick Vigil.

While the newcomers should add depth to the defense, it’s tough to project much improvement here. The Bengals’ defense remains one of the worst units in the NFL, which will force Burrow into several shootouts in his rookie season. Burrow will likely be tasked with leading the Bengals from behind, forced to air it out to keep pace with the opposing team. This translates into a highly favorable position for fantasy success. We want to target quarterbacks with weak defenses because this will allow for more volume and potential scoring opportunities. Burrow will be in numerous positive game script situations in his rookie season.

 

Pro-Ready Prospect

Burrow is the most pro-ready prospect at QB since Andrew Luck. His 2019 season was quite possibly the most impressive season in NCAA history. As a senior at LSU, Burrow completed 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards on 10.8 yards per attempt with 60 touchdowns and six interceptions. This otherworldly production allowed Burrow to supplant Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa as the premier QB prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft.

While Burrow does not possess elite athleticism like other strong prospects, he makes up for that with accuracy, pocket presence, work ethic, and football IQ. This isn’t going to be a situation where head coach Zac Taylor limits the playbook to accommodate his rookie quarterback. Burrow’s strengths should allow him to play freely without any typical rookie constraints.

 

Rushing Upside

The best fantasy quarterbacks are able to provide yardage on the ground. This raises their weekly floors, as it mitigates any poor passing performances. It also raises their ceiling, since the rushing yardage can provide an added boost to a big game. Burrow checks off this box as well. In his junior season at LSU, Burrow ran for 399 yards and seven touchdowns. As a senior, he put up 368 yards and five touchdowns. While it’s unlikely that he eclipses five rushing touchdowns as a pro, we can still project approximately 200 rushing yards with the upside for more.

 

Prime Playoff Matchups

Burrow has a terrific fantasy playoff schedule, which puts him in position to thrive at the right time. The Redskins (23rd), Texans (25th), Giants (29th), and Dolphins (30th) each ranked in the bottom-third of the league in passing yards per attempt allowed last season. The Redskins and Dolphins figure to improve in 2020, but they’re still exploitable. The Giants and Texans remain bottom-tier passing defenses.

While the Cowboys ranked ninth, the team lost their top cornerback Byron Jones to free agency, so their defense is likely headed for some regression. Each of these games project as shootouts. This will also be a time in the season where Burrow has adapted to the professional level, so it’s likely that we’ll see his best performances during this stretch.

 

Offensive Line Improvements

Jonah Williams was regarded as one of the safest picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, with elite technique and run-blocking ability. He should be able to provide a significant upgrade to the Bengals’ porous offensive line. The team also signed guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, an experienced lineman with 53 career starts, providing some veteran stability to this youthful unit. While guard Michael Jordan struggled as a rookie, the team is high on his upside due to his athleticism and football IQ. Burrow should also help mask any deficiencies on the offensive line with his quick decision-making and superior athletic ability compared to last season’s starters, Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley. The Bengals should have a much-improved offensive line this season.

 

Final Thoughts

Since 2006, the only rookies to finish as QB1s were Vince Young, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, and Kyler Murray. It’s a daunting task for a rookie to excel as a fantasy football QB, but the pieces are in place for Burrow to thrive. Burrow obviously does not have the same rushing ability as Young, Newton, Wilson, Griffin, and Murray. However, he shares several similarities with Prescott and Luck. He has the strong supporting cast with rushing ability like Prescott, as well as the weak defense and pro-ready traits like Luck. Burrow is a great value, currently being drafted as QB16, behind declining veterans like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. He’s going to help a lot of fantasy players secure a championship this season. Joe Burrow will be a Top-10 fantasy QB as a rookie in 2020.

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