Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are currently engaged in an arms race for the title of Rookie of the Year. While Herbert leads their sprint (according to Vegas) at the 7/16ths mark, I'll take Joe Burrow over Herbert today, tomorrow, and any day for the next 15 years.
That's not a shot at Herbert. His performance as the Chargers' starter has been spectacular. But what Burrow has done in seven games with Cincinnati is nothing short of a miracle. And we're not talking about his stats (yet). We're talking about how he's transformed the entire franchise in just six months.
Despite what their 1-5-1 record suggests, the Bengals are (gasp) competitive this season. With the exception of a 27-3 loss to the Ravens, they have been within four points in their four other losses. That wasn't the case last year when the team went 2-14, had a -141 point differential, and lost six games by 10 points or more. But with Burrow under center, there is a clear belief within the huddle that they can win any game.
In Week 7, the Bengals lost to the 5-2 Browns on a touchdown with 11 seconds remaining after Burrow tossed the potential game-winning touchdown less than a minute earlier. In Week 6 with Cincinnati trailing the 4-2 Colts by four points, Burrow drove it to the Colt's 37-yard line before a forced third-down pass in the end zone was intercepted with 39 seconds left. In Week 1, Burrow drove the Bengals to Chargers' 13-yard line with seven seconds remaining, but the would-be, game-tying 31-yard try was wide right.
That's the kind of competitiveness the Bengals expected/needed from Burrow after they selected him No. 1 overall in this year's draft. He showcased a fiery personality while leading LSU to an undefeated season last year, and while his record-breaking statistical season and Heisman win were important, the Bengals needed someone to re-sharpen their edges. Burrow is doing that and more.
So far this season, Burrow has thrown for 2,023 yards on a 66.6 percent completion percentage with 9 TDs against 4 INTs. He's added 3 rushing TDs and 121 yards on the ground. He's already thrown for 300 yards in five games, which is one away from the rookie record held by Andrew Luck and is on pace to break Luck's record for the most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history (4,374).
Herbert, who has started two fewer games than Burrow, has accumulated 1,542 passing yards on 67.4% completions with 12 TDs against 3 INTs. He's ran for two more touchdowns and 121 yards. He's also lost only one fumble to Burrow's 3. And yet when you look at the supporting cast, the statistical advantage Herbert holds is completely unsurprising.
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is a Top-10 wide receiver in football and a three-time Pro Bowler. Tight end Hunter Henry is an amazing security blanket for Herbert and Austin Ekeler (currently hurt) is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. The Chargers also already had established leaders in their locker room and had a quarterback-friendly offense installed coming into this season. Hell, noodle-arm Philip Rivers threw for 4,615 yards and 22 TDs for them last year.
Burrow's top targets, meanwhile, are two-time 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd, rookie Tee Higgins, and a debilitated and seemingly-uninterested A.J. Green. Their running backs don't contribute much to the passing game (or the rushing game considering Burrow is their second-leading rusher) and they have no tight end worth mentioning. Their offensive line has also given up the most sacks in the NFL. The Chargers are No. 15 in the league.
Based on their performances so far, both franchises are assuredly happy with their rookie quarterbacks. They've both proven a lot in a short amount of time. But Burrow has done more with less talent under greater pressure with more expectations and playing for a franchise with a well-established losing culture. His impact goes far beyond the stats or what you'd expect from a rookie, and that is why I want Joe Burrow under center for my team any day of the week.