Joe Burrow will throw Over 21.5 touchdowns as a rookie
For a guy who set a college football record with 60 touchdown passes in 2019, you’d think scoring 22 more the next season would be easy for Joe Burrow.
But it’s a whole new ballgame for the former LSU quarterback, whom the Cincinnati Bengals selected first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Over/Under for Burrow’s passing touchdowns in 2020 is set at 21.5. Let’s dissect that total and compare it to NFL rookie performances of the past to determine whether Burrow will surpass 22 touchdowns in his first pro season.
Joe Burrow's regular-season passing touchdowns
As a senior at LSU, Burrow turned in one of the best seasons by a quarterback in college football history. His 76.3% completion rate is the second best for a single season, behind Colt McCoy’s 76.7% in 2008. Burrow’s 5,671 passing yards ranked third in FBS history, and his 841 first-place votes for the Heisman Trophy set a record for largest winning margin.
The most astounding part about his senior season is that no one expected it, after his junior year. In 2018, he completed just 57.8% of his passes for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The question in 2020 is which Burrow will appear in his first pro season. LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady — now the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator — played a large part in Burrow’s success last season by implementing a spread offense at LSU. Now Burrow will compete under a new system in Cincinnati, with different pieces on offense.
He’ll inherit a group of receivers that features Tyler Boyd (1,046 yards, five TDs), Auden Tate (575 yards, one TD), and John Ross III (506 yards, three TDs). Last season, longtime Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tallied just 16 touchdown passes with that unit, while Ryan Finley scored twice through the air.
The #Bengals wisely got a deal done with Tyler Boyd, who was one of the NFL's premier slot receivers last season.— Evan McPhillips (@emcphil) July 25, 2019
From the slot, Boyd produced an 80.4 @PFF grade (4th), a 113.9 passer rating when targeted (8th) and 2.00 yards per route run (2nd). pic.twitter.com/EYtHFtly9u
The Bengals finished 30th in red-zone scoring percentage and 30th in team passing touchdowns per game (1.1).
On the plus side, Burrow will get a weapon Dalton did not have in 2019. Seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green sat out all of last season with an ankle injury. The Bengals placed the franchise tag on him during the offseason, so he’ll continue his career in Cincinnati, whether he likes it or not.
The Bengals also brought in Clemson wideout Tee Higgins with the No. 33 draft pick. Burrow should feel confident with those additional teammates by his side, but the offensive line is another issue.
The offensive line ranked 30th last season, according to Pro Football Focus. In the offseason, Cincinnati signed Xavier Su’a Filo, last seen with the Cowboys, and drafted three offensive linemen. Jonah Williams will also return, after he sat out his rookie season with a torn labrum.
Dalton and Finley were sacked a combined 48 times last season. The offensive line may improve slightly in 2020, but not as much as Burrow would like, in his first season against top-tier NFL defenses.
Recent rookie touchdown totals
It's practically guaranteed Burrow will start Week 1 for the Bengals, now that Dalton has moved on to the Cowboys. Last year, Heisman winner Kyler Murray — the No. 1 draft pick in 2019 — played all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as head coach. The dual-threat QB threw for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns, while he ran the ball in for four more scores.
The next quarterback off the draft board in 2019, Daniel Jones, didn’t start until Week 3, but he still managed to rack up 24 touchdown passes, which ranked 13th in the league. Sixth-round pick Garnder Minshew also accumulated 21 passing touchdowns, after he stepped in for an injured Nick Foles on the Jaguars.
Daniel Jones tied Deshaun Watson and Fran Tarkenton for the most games with four TD passes by a first-year player in NFL history (3), according to ESPN Stats and Information.— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) December 22, 2019
This is also his fourth game this season with four total touchdowns. Impressive for a rookie. #Giants
In 2018, Baker Mayfield (another Heisman winner drafted first overall) found quick success as a rookie, when he piled on 27 touchdown passes through 14 games.
With Burrow expected to take over the Bengals offense from Week 1, he’ll see plenty of scoring opportunities to hit the Over. The offensive line is a concern, but Jones stood behind a mediocre line in 2019 and still found the end zone 26 times (two were rushing scores).
Green and Higgins offer hope for the Bengals offense in 2020, and Burrow should generate at least 22 touchdown passes and make a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year.