CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow’s next challenge is daunting: return to his home state and resurrect the woebegone Bengals.
Cincinnati took the Heisman Trophy winner first overall in the NFL draft Thursday night, a move expected by everyone, including Burrow. The national title winner at LSU has spent weeks fielding questions about going to a franchise synonymous with futility.
Burrow developed his quarterback skills in southeastern Ohio, leading his prep team to the playoffs. A failed stint at Ohio State became a launching point to a national title and Heisman Trophy at LSU.
For the draft Thursday, he wore a white shirt with the outline of Ohio and the 740 area code for southeast Ohio. He also held a black Bengals cap, waiting for the pick to become official.
He moves to a team that went 2-14 last season under first-year coach Zac Taylor, losing a club-record 11 games in a row. Cincinnati has lost 21 of its last 24 games.
That's what the Heisman winner is up against now.
Not that it's all up to Burrow, of course. In Cincinnati, it's about ownership. The Bengals have been through a dizzying list of coaches, coordinators and quarterbacks during one of the worst stretches in the league's 100-year history.
They've had only seven winning seasons in the last 29 years, a stunningly bad result in a league built upon parity. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the fifth-longest streak of postseason futility.
The Bengals have had 18 different starting quarterbacks over that span, including Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in 2003 who eventually demanded a trade rather than stay with the franchise.
Burrow’s career bloomed in Athens, Ohio, where his father, Jim, was an assistant coach at Ohio University, taking his high school team to the playoffs. He couldn’t win the starting job at Ohio State and transferred to LSU, where he had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in college history. Burrow threw a record 60 touchdown passes as the Tigers rolled to the national title.