INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Who wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of John Elway and Eli Manning?
Joe Burrow, that’s who.
The Heisman Trophy winner, national champion and consensus No. 1 pick in next month’s draft said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine that he’d have no qualms playing in Cincinnati, which owns the top choice.
“Yeah, I’m not going to not play,” the LSU star quarterback replied when asked if he would report to the Bengals should they select him No. 1 overall on April 23 in Las Vegas. “I’m a ballplayer. Whoever picks me, I’m going to go show up.”
Burrow, who grew up in Athens, Ohio, and initially attended Ohio State, said he’d love to play professionally in his home state.
“Yeah, absolutely. It’s 2 hours, 15 minutes from my house,” Burrow said. “I could go home for dinner if I wanted to.”
Burrow said on Dan Patrick’s radio show last month that it was important for him to keep winning in the NFL and that while he wanted to be the first overall pick, “you also want to go to a great organization that is committed to winning. Committed to winning Super Bowls.”
The Bengals haven’t won a Super Bowl since entering the league in 1968.
Those comments sparked speculation that Burrow was skeptical about the Bengals.
“The only thing I’ve said is that I just didn’t want to be presumptuous about the pick,” Burrow said Tuesday. “That’s why I’ve been non-committal because I don’t know what’s going to happen. They might not pick me. They might fall in love with someone else. You guys kind of took that narrative and ran with it. There has never been anything like that from my end.”
So, no reservations about playing for the Bengals.
“I’ll play for whoever drafts me,” Burrow said. “I’m just not going to be presumptuous about what they want to do. It’s the draft. You guys have been covering it for a long time. You never know what’s going to happen.”
So, he’s all in on Cincinnati should the Bengals call his name on draft night?
“Yeah, of course I want to be the first pick,” he said. “That’s every kid’s dream. I’ve worked really, really hard for the opportunity and I’m blessed to be in this position. So I’m just really excited to be in this position.”
Elway was the top overall selection in the 1983 draft, the vanguard of the greatest quarterback class in NFL history, but he didn’t want to play in Baltimore and the Colts traded him to Denver, where he won two Super Bowls as a player and another as an executive.
Something similar transpired in 2004 when Manning was selected first overall by the San Diego Chargers but was quickly traded to the New York Giants, where he twice beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
Elway spent four years searching for Peyton Manning’s replacement in Denver before landing Drew Lock, so this marks the first offseason since 2015 that he isn’t spending a lot of time on the QB prospects such as Burrow.
Instead, he’s looking at the deep class of wide receivers that punctuate this year’s rookie class.
Elway already has a Pro Bowl receiver in Courtland Sutton and a rising star tight end in Noah Fant. But nowadays teams have to load up at wide receiver and this year brings a wealth of talented pass catchers to choose from.
“Oh, I think this is one of the best groups since Odell’s group,” Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault said in comparing this year’s crop to the one in 2014 that featured first-rounders Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin.
In addition to Shenault, this year’s group features Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Clemson’s Tee Higgins.
“I think we’re talented across the board,” Shenault said. “I think we check a lot of boxes. I think this class is going to do great things. It’s definitely going to be a legendary class.”