There was no mystery to the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. The player everyone assumed it would be — and the player Cincinnati Bengals fans hoped it would be — was the one who got the call.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s trip from his childhood home to his new home won’t be a long one. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, a native of Athens, Ohio, was taken No. 1 overall by the Bengals, a team that sits less than three hours west of Athens.
It was a meteoric rise for a quarterback who transferred from Ohio State in 2018 after losing the starting competition to Dwayne Haskins and has a respectable but unassuming first year as a starter for the Tigers. There was nothing unassuming about his second year as a starter.
Burrow set an NCAA record with 60 touchdown passes and led college football in 2019 with 5,671 yards and a 77.6-percent completion percentage, leading LSU to the national title, throwing seven touchdowns against Oklahoma in the national semifinals and five more plus a rushing touchdown in the national title game against Clemson.
Prior to the 2019 season, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Burrow pegged as a sixth-round prospect. That Burrow’s name was the first called Thursday night was the end to a wild ride for the player, who would never have imagined Thursday’s events a year prior.
“I would have told you you were crazy,” Burrow said to ESPN. “I knew I was going to have a really good season because we had really good players coming back and I had really good coaches and we were going to work really, really hard to do it. To jump to No. 1 is crazy to me, but it’s a dream come true.”
The Bengals were looking for a quarterback, as the franchise had bounced between Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley as the starter last season and the two led the Bengals to a 2-14 record. Beyond Burrow’s numbers, Cincinnati was looking for a leader that could get the Bengals to a playoff win for the first time since 1990. Draft analysts believe Burrow can be that leader.
“He plays the position like a linebacker, as many coaches have said about him,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “This kid has everything you’re looking for as far as becoming that franchise guy and demanding that kind of attitude from his teammates.”
It was a much different look for the NFL draft Thursday night. The coronavirus pandemic forced the NFL to cancel scheduled draft festivities in Las Vegas and hold the draft virtually. Rather than walk to the podium in a new suit, Burrow sat with his parents on their couch wearing a sweatshirt with the outline of the state of Ohio on the chest and the 740 area code in the middle.
The first three picks of the draft all had Buckeye connections. Burrow transferred from Ohio State, and the second and third overall picks were from Ohio State
The Washington Redskins bolstered their defense with the No. 2 overall pick, taking defensive end Chase Young. Young was a unanimous All-American in 2019, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award and Chuck Bednarik Award after recording 16½ and 21 tackles for a loss.
The Detroit Lions chose Buckeye corner Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick. Okudah was a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2019.
The New York Giants drafted a protector for quarterback Daniel Jones in Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick. Quarterbacks went with the fifth and sixth picks. The Miami Dolphins took Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at No. 5, not worrying about the hip injury that prematurely ended his 2019 season. At No. 6, the Los Angeles Chargers picked who they hope will be the successor to eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers, taking Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
The rest of the draft’s first round played out after press time. The second and third rounds of the draft start at 7 p.m. Friday and the fourth through seventh rounds begin at noon Saturday.