When the Cincinnati Bengals selected Joe Burrow with the first overall pick, they hoped he'd one day develop into an elite NFL quarterback capable of carrying a scarred franchise back into the postseason. One could make the argument that it took less than two years for that dream to become a reality. The LSU product has been the talk of football over the past two weeks as he's posted historically great performances to capture the AFC Central crown.
In an eight-day stretch he threw for 971 yards and eight touchdowns without a turnover. He's the only player ever with back-to-back games of 400-plus yards, four touchdowns and zero picks. His right arm explodes with big play after big play and his last turnover came in Week 13.
Dan Orlovsky spoke for the group this morning on Get Up, pointing out that the sophomore signal-caller is a Top-5 quarterback in the league. Already. A place he's perfectly capable of staying for years to come. Or, just as reasonably, a place he could depart next week.
Things change drastically week-to-week in the NFL, which at some points feels like is drawing game results at random like Scrabble players rummaging around in a bag. Burrow has changed the conversation by doing unprecedented things when they matter most. And while no one is less surprised than yours truly, it might be worth pumping the brakes on making any huge proclamations about his permanent place in the pecking order based on a larger body of evidence.
Entering the season, there were three quarterbacks head and shoulders above all others: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. That continuity continues. What we've seen over the past few months is an ever-shifting tier below that consisting of Burrow, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Matthew Stafford, Justin Herbert and, if you squint hard enough, Carson Wentz. Where the fall on the weekly rankings varies on performance and availability.
Every single one of these players has had some ups and downs. Some have been sidelined completely or noticeably hampered by injury. Some have looked like world-beaters on Sunday and then dreadful the next Thursday. Such is life for every team that doesn't have the proven consistency of Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes — and even the most ardent Kansas City Chiefs fan may have had some doubts during this year's valleys.
One regular season week remains as appetizer for the playoffs. Every quarterback mentioned in this post except Jackson has a chance to stake their claim to the No. 4 or No. 5 spot. We lament how thin talent is at the position and it remains a real problem that competent backups are few and far between. And that spot starters with no name recognition do little to change that when given the opportunity due to COVID lists or injury.
But damn, it's pretty exciting to realize how talented and dynamic that second tier moves and shakes. On any given day, any of them can be the best in the league. Smarter football minds than mine can tell you how this Top-10 stacks up with those of the past but if the younger crop meets expectations, we could conceivably look back and marvel just how good the top third of the league's quarterbacks were and how much they challenged each other.