Why Joe Burrow Isn’t a Lock to Go #1 in the 2020 NFL Draft

For the longest time, Alabama phenom Tua Tagovailoa was a lock to go first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. LSU’s Joe Burrow and a few other prospects had flashed serious potential and created mild arguments to unseat the Crimson Tide stud.

But nobody was actually beating out Tua.

Some suggested the race was tighter than initially thought. Regardless, it got blown wide open recently, when Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending (and perhaps career-altering) hip injury.

Nov 23, 2019; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted onto the field before the start of their game against the Western Carolina Catamounts at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Tagovailoa also suffered a posterior wall fracture at last weeks Mississippi State game. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

You could say the same about the College Football Playoff, seeing as Tua’s exit probably had the best college football betting sites leaving Alabama out of the national title game.

Not much is known about Tua Tagovailo’s long-term prospects or how his status will impact his draft stock. But any level of uncertainty makes it highly unlikely he’s the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

That turns the focus to Burrow, who helped his Tigers edge out Alabama. A strong finish to the season may not even be necessary to cement his place as the top pick in the upcoming draft, with sportsbooks everywhere penciling him in as the favorite to go first overall.

Unsurprisingly, he’s also the top favorite to win the Heisman.

Of course, this is a fluid process. Tua was the top pick and now he isn’t. Nobody really saw Baker Mayfield going first in 2019, either.

If things can keep changing, maybe there is reason for bettors and NFL Draft fans alike to consider the top spot without Burrow entrenched in it. Here’s a few reasons why:

Nov 16, 2019; Oxford, MS, USA; Louisiana State Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) looks to throw against the Mississippi Rebels during the first quarter at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Not Everyone Needs a Quarterback

The number one reason Joe Burrow isn’t a lock to be the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft is the fact that you don’t take a quarterback unless you need one.

Usually if you’re bad enough to own the first pick, you do need one. However, the Washington Redskins just spent a top-10 pick on Dwayne Haskins. Unless they decide to kill that experiment ridiculously early, it wouldn’t make much sense to see them splurge for another passer this early in a draft.

The NFL season still has some time to sort things out, too. The New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and a handful of other teams are technically still in the conversation to tank their way into oblivion.

The odds still say Cincinnati gets this pick (and they need a quarterback), but what if they don’t? If Arizona, either New York franchise or Washington finish with the worst record in the NFL, are any of these teams really investing in another fresh face under center?

Even if the Bengals, Dolphins or another quarterback-needy team is here, there’s another similar element baked into this; what if they really only have eyes for Tua?

With Tagovailoa’s draft stock in free fall mode, these teams could take the top spot, trade the pick and still potentially snag the guy they actually want later in the draft.

Maybe Joe Burrow Isn’t the Guy

Having an obvious need for a quarterback is a big deal, but what if teams do need a quarterback and simply aren’t smitten with Burrow? I don’t really see why that would be the case, but let’s try to wrap our heads around it anyways.

For one, Burrow has been playing at a high level for exactly one season. He didn’t earn a starting gig at Ohio State and while he was good in 2018, he wasn’t this good.

Burrow’s story and development are part of what makes him special, while his 2019 campaign has been incredibly prolific in the face of some very good matchups.

The sample size is small, however. Burrow also has to answer questions about his physical attributes, too, as he isn’t graded out as having an elite arm or high-level overall athleticism.

There is a ton to like about Burrow when you get into his accuracy, decision-making and penchant for big plays. But what if the team drafting first overall just doesn’t have this particular quarterback #1 on their board?

It’s a lot more logical than the top sportsbooks seem to be suggesting.

There Are Other Elite Prospects

The last major factor potentially keeping Burrow from being plucked ahead of everyone else in the 2020 NFL Draft is that other elite prospects exist.

You can still make a small case that someone could overlook Tagovailoa’s health woes. You can tell me that Justin Herbert or another passer ascend the draft rankings and knock Burrow from his perch.

Those aren’t as believable as a bad team looking at all of their other holes and picking studs like Chase Young or Andrew Thomas over a quarterback, though.

When you have a pass rush and elite pass protection, you don’t really think about it. When you don’t have one or the other, it’s painfully obvious and it relentlessly eats at you.

Just look at teams who get after the quarterback the most and those who do the worst at protecting their own. They tend to be the best/worst teams in the league.

Young can give someone a Nick Bosa-ish boost on the edge, while Andrew Thomas can shore up someone’s blind side and help a mediocre offense take things to the next level.

The right team with the right roster probably needs to land at #1 for this to matter, but it’s still possible.


The point here isn’t to peck away at Joe Burrow. His scouting report is riddled with optimism, impressive play and elite traits that should translate into a successful franchise quarterback.

But Burrow doesn’t come with zero risk. There are also other elite college football prospects to drool over and not every team vying for the 1st overall pick will want or need him.

That’s something to consider when you’re finalizing your personal 2020 NFL mock drafts or preparing to bet on the draft.

Marcelo Villa

About Marcelo Villa

Marcelo is an associate editor at The Sports Daily, and has covered the San Diego Chargers for Bleacher Report. He also writes for Sportsdirect Inc.