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Joe Burrow or bust? Examining Bengals’ best options atop the draft

© Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have a huge decision to make. Will they use the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Joe Burrow, or not?

The skinny: It seems like a slam dunk for the Bengals to shut out the noise and just go with the quarterback who’s been projected to to No. 1 overall since LSU won the national championship in epic style. However, the team hasn’t announced any decision yet, and there is a ton of interest from teams itching to trade up for a quarterback.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the three best options for the Bengals as they approach the 2020 NFL Draft.

Draft Joe Burrow: This stems from the old KISS approach. You know, “Keep it simple, stupid.” The Bengals need a franchise quarterback. Burrow is seen by some as the surest thing since Andrew Luck.

  • Heat check: Burrow’s stock couldn’t possibly be higher. He had one of the best seasons any quarterback has ever had in the history of college football and capped it off with the Heisman Trophy and a championship ring.
  • Prototype: It’s not just about what he did in college, either. Burrow has the traits teams are looking for — he’s a dual-threat passer who is always looking downfield and has the arm to make any throw — as the NFL continues to evolve into a spread-offense league.
  • Production: His stats were mind-boggling: Burrow totaled 6,039 yards and 65 touchdowns, breaking multiple NCAA records in the process while dominating the top competition college football had to offer.

Quite simply, Burrow’s the dude every team that doesn’t have a quarterback dreams of landing. That is, of course, assuming he isn’t just a one-year wonder. But it’s not like Burrow came out of nowhere. He was a highly sought-after four-star recruit coming out of Athens High School and has clearly gotten better with age.

Draft Tua Tagovailoa: Despite their fan base threatening to riot in the streets if Burrow isn’t the pick, the Bengals have already met with Tagovailoa at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and have publicly stated they will explore all options.

  • Talent not in question: If Tagovailoa hadn’t suffered a season-ending hip injury in November, there would be a lot more noise about the Bengals weighing their options between Burrow and the former ‘Bama star.
  • Premier passer: One of the most accurate passers to enter the NFL in recent memory, Tagovailoa has proven he’s an outstanding decision maker and won’t turn the ball over often.
  • Impressive stats: Starting 24 games the past two seasons, Tagovailoa totaled 7,013 yards and 83 touchdowns while throwing just nine interceptions.
  • On the right path: Now that he’s recovering his health (expected to get clearance for football activities in March), Tagovailoa has once again emerged as a player whom many believe is a top-3 lock.

Obviously, the big concern is that Tagovailoa has been injured a lot the past couple of years. However, most of the time he spent on the sideline was due to ankle injuries that wouldn’t typically require surgery, and his hip injury was the result of a freak play. So, there’s certainly a case to be made he’s not injury-prone, and if that’s the case Tagovailoa has a bright future as an NFL quarterback.

Trade down: NFL insiders have shared that it’s going to take nothing less than a Godfather offer to get the Bengals to trade the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. But what if a team gets desperate enough to do just that?

  • Wealth of riches: Trading up for a quarterback in the top-five is an extremely expensive endeavor. Just ask the New York Jets, who gave up a king’s ransom ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft to move up from No. 6 to No. 3 overall with the Indianapolis Colts (for Sam Darnold). Any team that makes a deal with the Bengals for the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft would be giving Cincinnati a massive haul in draft picks that could be used this year and in the years to come to bolster the entire roster.
  • Consolation prize: This year’s draft class is absolutely loaded with elite talent at the top, and generational defensive end Chase Young could be there in a trade-down situation. The Bengals can still land a blue-chip prospect, regardless, and if they like another quarterback like Jordan Love or Justin Herbert, that’s on the table as well.
  • Plan for 2021: Heck, if the Bengals aren’t totally sold on Burrow or Tagovailoa, they can take the best player available this year and continue stinking it up on offense this coming NFL season to tank for Trevor Lawrence, who many believe is the best quarterback prospect in decades.

We’d be stunned if the Bengals went with the “plan for 2021” route. But this franchise isn’t exactly known for making sound long-term decisions, and at this point all options are on the table.

The bottom line: Don’t be so quick to assume the Bengals will go with Burrow atop the 2020 NFL Draft. The team is likely at least a couple years away from fielding a playoff contender, no matter what.

There’s a lot that could happen between now and April 23. And that phone will be ringing off the hook as teams try to convince Mike Brown to part with the first-overall pick.

But let’s be honest, anything other than taking Burrow at the top would be widely panned.