The Bengals are tipping their hand regarding what they should and will do if they land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But it might not be what you think.
Many say Ohio State defensive end Chase Young would make the most sense for the winless Bengals, who are on pace to join the in-state rival Browns as the second 0-16 NFL team over the last three seasons. There is nothing wrong with Cincinnati taking Young at No. 1, but there is a better answer.
A franchise quarterback is the answer for a team that returned Andy Dalton to his starting QB role for its Week 13 matchup against the Jets. 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley, who had a 47.1 completion percentage this season while starting, is not the long-term answer.
2020 NFL MOCK DRAFT:
Bengals take QB; Young slips to No. 3 overall
LSU’s Joe Burrow could be that answer. We admit to running the Tua Tagovailoa campaign, but that was before the Alabama passer’s season-ending hip injury. If the Bengals somehow could get Young and Tagovailoa, that would be a true start for coach Zac Taylor’s attempted remodel of a franchise that slipped from playoff good to super bad by waiting too long to address the QB question.
The Bengals, though, would be better off in the long term drafting Burrow over Young.
The Ohio State defensive end certainly would liven up a pass rush that has declined over the last year. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard combined for 24 sacks last season; in 2019, that trio has 11 of the Bengals’ 16 sacks, which ranks 31st in the NFL. Young would improve that, but we are talking about the No. 1 pick.
Do you believe Young is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer? If so, then by all means the Bengals should draft him and stop reading after the next few sentences. The only two defensive ends who were taken with the No. 1 pick and are in the Hall of Fame are Lee Roy Selmon (1976) and Bruce Smith (1985). Cincinnati last took a defensive lineman with the No. 1 pick when it drafted Ohio State’s Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson in 1994.
Two defensive ends have been taken No. 1 this decade in Jadeveon Clowney (2014) and Myles Garrett (2017). Clowney is in Seattle now, and Deshaun Watson, drafted in 2017, is the face of the franchise. Garrett played on Cleveland’s 0-16 team the year after he was drafted, a year before the Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 pick in 2018.
A team like the Bengals can have a dominant pass rusher, but it needs to build a franchise around the QB.
Burrow can be that guy in the NFL. He is thriving in former Saints passing game coordinator Joe Brady’s offense at a record-setting clip that includes 4,014 yards, 41 TDs and just 6 interceptions with a 78.9 completion percentage. Burrow and Tagovailoa have efficiency ratings that might rank No. 1 and No. 2 all time for a single season. Burrow likely will win the Heisman Trophy, and sometimes NFL teams over-think the QB position.
Watson, Lamar Jackson and Mayfield have been the best QBs in the College Football Playoff era. They are doing just fine at the next level. Burrow can make that kind of impact, too. Yeah, Young is a close-to-home-hero at Ohio State. Burrow, a Ohio State transfer, grew up in Southeast Ohio. He is a QB the fan base can get excited about, too, and judging by Cincinnati’s 31st-ranked attendance, that would not hurt.
Burrow would be the eighth QB drafted No. 1 overall in the last 10 years along with Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011), Andrew Luck (2012), Jameis Winston (2015), Jared Goff (2016), Mayfield (2018) and Kyler Murray (2019). There isn’t a future Hall of Famer on that list yet, but Newton and Goff have started in the Super Bowl.
And the Bengals need a QB who can make Taylor’s offense go. While the pass rush is bad, the offense is worse. The Bengals rank 30th in the NFL in passing TDs (11) and 30th in rushing TDs (4). That is unacceptable considering how talented running back Joe Mixon is.
Switching back to Dalton shows the Bengals’ hand, too. It means they know Finley isn’t ready to be an NFL starter and probably will never be more than a backup. It means they are trying to win a game or two against a schedule that still includes the Jets, Patriots, Dolphins and two matchups with the Browns. Dalton has one year left on his contract, but it’s clear he is no longer valued as the QB for this franchise.
Cincinnati has been looking for answers since its 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh in the 2016 AFC wild-card game. Since then, the Bengals (19-39-1) have been the third worst team in the NFL behind their next two opponents. The Jets (18-41) have Sam Darnold. The Browns (13-45-1) have Mayfield and are at least showing signs of promise after an over-hyped preseason.
The Bengals? They are already starting to debate taking Young or Burrow. Anybody who watched last week’s 16-10 loss to the Steelers starring Finley, Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges knows what the answer needs to be with that No. 1 pick if Cincinnati gets it.
You can solve a few problems with a dominant pass-rusher, but you can’t truly rebuild without the QB.