Six different SEC quarterbacks have won the Heisman. Peyton Manning, Joe Namath, and Cam Newton have all, at one time or another, played quarterback in the SEC, and some of the greatest single-season quarterbacking performances (Tim Tebow in 2009, for example) have come out of the conference. As of tonight, though, no quarterback in the history of the conference has thrown for more passing yards in a season than Joe Burrow, just one of many records Burrow has broken this season. For a player whose greatest accomplishment coming into the season was ending UCF’s 25-game winning streak, this is pretty exceptional.
Barring some yet unforeseen circumstance, he is practically a lock to win the Heisman this season. Even if he doesn’t win the trophy, though, his performance throughout the year—combined with Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury—has likely guaranteed him a top-five spot in next spring’s NFL Draft and, more importantly, a pretty large contract. What is interesting about Burrow, though, is just how quickly his draft stock has risen. Coming into the season, the senior wasn’t even listed in the first round of Mel Kiper’s preseason mock draft. Now, as the regular season comes to a close, Kiper has Burrow going second overall.
Burrow’s meteoric rise is unlike anything college football has seen in recent memory. He will end the regular season with 4,366 yards and 44 touchdowns, both second in the country. He leads the nation in completion percentage, and his current clip of 10.9 yards per attempt rank fourth. In two fewer games, he has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than Kyler Murray did all of last season. He has been, in a word, exceptional.
There have been plenty of one-year star quarterbacks to blaze through the NCAA before an early first-round selection in draft such as Kyler Murray and Newton. But unlike those players, Burrow had full year starting before this season. Throughout, he was, at best, an average college quarterback. His 133.2 passer rating ranked 64th in the country, and in all major passing statistics, he was in the middle tier of quarterbacks. Far and away his biggest achievement of the year was putting up 394 yards and four touchdowns on UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Players make significant jumps in performance every year, but for Burrow to perform like he has throughout this season after last year’s campaign is particularly novel.
The biggest question is now, obviously, where he will land in next year’s draft. With Tagovailoa like rehabbing until next season, Burrow appears to be the best quarterback available, especially for win-now teams. His exceptional accuracy and 6’4” frame will translate well to the NFL, and he could reasonably make a difference for a team like Cincinnati or Miami next season. Or he may fall to a team beginning the process of transitioning from an aging signal caller to a younger quarterback such as the Patriots or Chargers. Regardless, he is almost certainly guaranteed a large contract. Kyler Murray, the first selection in last year’s draft, signed for $35.1 million, and Baker Mayfield signed for $32.6 million in 2018. Daniel Jones, whose 2018 numbers at Duke actually mirrored Burrow’s 2018 production, was taken sixth overall in last spring’s draft and signed for $25.6 million. Given his performance this year, it would be surprising if he signed for much less than that.
Burrow’s LSU squad is now 12-0 and practically guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. He has at least two more games to continue his outrageous production and increase his draft stock, but as it stands today, he looks about as good as anyone could have expected. Perhaps NFL executives know something everyone else doesn’t and he falls from the first round. But, all things considered, it looks like Burrow is headed towards a big pay day.