What Do We Do With Joe Burrow in 2022? (Fantasy Football)
Joe Burrow has swag. No one can deny this fact. On the heels of an incredible season, bouncing back from a 2020 season-ending injury, he led the Cinderella story Cincinnati Bengals to an AFC Championship and a Super Bowl berth. He ended 2021 as the QB8, playing 16 games, with an average of 20.52 fantasy points per game. It did not hurt to be flanked by Ja’Marr Chase – having a season for the ages – and Tee Higgins, a stellar WR2. The two WRs gave the Bengals two pass catchers finishing in the top 22. Not too shabby. Throw in Joe Mixon’s banner year, and all of the gears were clicking for Mr. Burrow’s Bengals, especially in the final two games of the season, where he was on fire finishing as the QB1 and leaving a sweet taste in fans’ mouths going into the playoffs.
With recency bias rearing its head, going into the 2022 fantasy season, Burrow is being drafted as the QB5 in the early fifth round. A polarizing player at this ADP, what do we do with Joe Burrow this season?
— Matt Lombardo (@MattLombardoNFL) February 13, 2022
A Potential Bust?
Many people have put Burrow on their bust list going into fantasy draft season, myself included. To be clear, I don’t think Burrow will be a bad QB per se, but being drafted as high as he currently is, the potential for him not to return on his investment is high. In some leagues, Burrow is going before rushing QBs like Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. We all know how important a rushing QB can be in fantasy football, and Joe Burrow isn’t exactly that. Last year Burrow only had 19 rushing attempts for 118 yards, while the QBs being drafted in his range had 784 yards (Jalen Hurts) and 423 yards (Kyler Murray). If you make the conscious decision to go QB early, you must go with someone who has at least some rushing upside, and unfortunately, that is not Burrow.
Burrow is undoubtedly a “great in real life” QB who might end up as just a “fine” fantasy QB. He finished as PFF’s highest-graded passer in 2021, but when you dig deeper, you see that his high-flying stats were condensed into a specific number of games. Let me elaborate. Burrow only had seven games in 2021 where he reported 20 or more fantasy points and was QB6 or better in only 19% of his games. If I am drafting a QB in the fifth round, I want at least a consistent 20 fantasy points a week, with a few blow-up weeks, a la Josh Allen or Jalen Hurts. In addition, 33% of his fantasy points last season came from three games – week 7, week 16, and week 17—two games against Baltimore and one against Kansas City. Consistency is key in the game of fantasy football. Sure, you want to inject some volatility into your line-up, we have a great article on this on the website, but the base of your team must be consistent when it is a player at a high draft cost. Need help with consistency stats? Check out the consistency tool in the UDK, where you can see the percentage of weeks finished at the top of each position. Again, to be clear, I am not saying that Joe Burrow is a horribly inconsistent QB; I am saying that at his draft cost, he is not consistent enough.
A talented QB does not exist in a vacuum – a lot of things come together to build him. You obviously must consider pure talent, but you must factor in weapons, offensive style, schedule, and multiple other non-tangibles to construct the perfect QB1 situation. Let’s discuss the additional cursory facts that will impact Burrow this year. First up is the schedule. Going into the 2021 season, the Bengals were tied for the 6th easiest schedule. Not to say Burrow is not a talented QB, but a more manageable schedule no doubt padded his numbers slightly. This season might show a chink in his armor with the team having the 7th hardest schedule. They also have a traditionally slow pace of play, ranked the 8th slowest according to statmuse. Zac Taylor is a more conservative coach who likes to lean into a methodical game pace – the man loves to run the ball, and he loves it so much that he let Samaje Perine do it on a third down in the Super Bowl. It seems doubtful that Taylor will morph the Bengals offense and Burrow into a high-speed, let’s go for it on fourth down, gunslinging powerhouse over the course of one off-season.
The Bengals head into 2022 with a 16th-ranked defense. Although not one of the league’s top defensive lines, I don’t expect them to be in too many shootouts where Burrow will be expected to chuck it down the field. They HAVE, however, greatly improved their offensive line, now ranked 8th by PFF heading into 2022. Burrow enthusiasts say that this is why Burrow WILL be more successful this year; he simply will be protected better. And I do not deny this fact, I think this line WILL protect better, but most of the protection will manifest in Joe Mixon having success in the running game and finding more open lanes.
To make it clear, I love Joey B. and his rebuilt knee. I love the swag and coolness he has brought to Cincinnati and the NFL. I even think he is going to have a successful year. I just think that you should not be reaching for him in drafts this season. Sure, if he falls to the double-digit rounds, go ahead and pick him up, but in a year where it is better than ever to wait and take a QB late – it sadly might not be the year to have Smokin’ Joe captain your squad.