Joe Burrow will not be the best quarterback in the NFL this season, but when it comes to capturing the passing yards crown, that’s not always a prerequisite.
The favorites to throw for the most yards in 2021 are the usual suspects: Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady. However, there is one thing the Bengals’ second-year quarterback has going for him that the others do not — a team that could be regularly trailing in the second halves of games.
The Bengals are in the midst of a rebuild, as they have won only six games combined over the past two seasons. Burrow, the former No. 1 overall pick, gives them reason for hope, but there are too many holes right now for Cincinnati, as they have a subpar defense and a questionable offensive line.
While that could hinder team success, it could lead directly to Burrow competing for the most passing yards in the NFL. He is a decided longshot at +2500 odds, per DraftKings on July 29, which could be an outstanding value bet considering the upside Burrow has in the category.
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— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) July 28, 2021
History shows that quarterbacks on average or below average teams have a shot at the passing yards title. Deshaun Watson finished atop the leaderboard in 2020, throwing for 4,823 yards as the Houston Texans stumbled to a 4-12 record. Jameis Winston threw for the most passing yards in 2019, accumulating 5,109 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 7-9. Winston was a turnover machine that season, which forced him to bomb the football when the Bucs fell behind.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have all led the league in passing yards multiple times, so talent still pays off, but even Matt Schaub captured the crown in 2009.
In 10 games as a rookie, Burrow was No. 7 in the NFL in passing yards per game with an average of 268.8, which was a smidgen more than league MVP Aaron Rodgers. The team only won two games when he started, which meant they were often throwing the ball as a means to pull off a frantic comeback bid.
— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2020
Coach Zac Taylor has shown a penchant for using spread offensive concepts, which will keep Burrow heavily involved. He averaged 40.4 pass attempts per game a season ago, which was near the top of the leaderboard among starting quarterbacks. Additionally, the Bengals spent the No. 5 overall pick on wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, a former teammate of Burrow’s at LSU.
Cincinnati could have taken standout offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the selection, but instead zeroed in on Chase, telegraphing the team’s plan to rely on the passing game in 2021. The Bengals also boast promising young receiver Tee Higgins and veteran Tyler Boyd. There are a lot of weaknesses on the roster, but wideout is not one of them, which is a perfect combination when it comes to total passing yards for Burrow.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) July 29, 2021
Burrow’s health certainly must be considered. He looked promising as a rookie, but tore his ACL in Week 11 against the Washington Football Team. While that resulted in a sudden end to his first NFL season, Burrow recently said he is nearly 100 percent, and is expected to be ready for the regular season opener.
The lack of pass protection could be an issue again in 2021, so Burrow will need to keep himself safe. That could mean getting rid of the ball quickly, which should lead to an uptick in completions and subsequent yardage.
When it comes to passing yards, volume can be the name of the game. There are other quarterbacks who will average better yards per attempt and have more successful seasons than Burrow, but their totals will be hindered by a bevy of handoffs in the fourth quarter of blowout wins.
Burrow does not figure to be in that position very often in 2021, and could put up some huge passing yardage totals when Cincinnati falls behind quickly and throws often.
Here are the DraftKings favorites to finish with the most passing yardage in 2021, as of July 29:
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (+500): Mahomes finished last season with 4,740 passing yards, missing out on the crown to Watson by a mere 83 yards. Mahomes would have won it, but sat out the regular season finale because the Chiefs had already clinched the top seed in the AFC. He is the logical favorite in 2021, but the Chiefs are so good that the same scenario could pop up at the end of this season.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) July 28, 2021
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (+600): Prescott was off to a blazing start last year, averaging a stunning 371.2 passing yards per game through Week 5 before missing the rest of the year with a broken ankle. Prescott experienced tightness in his shoulder early in training camp, and that ailment should be watched closely. Dallas is projected to win the NFC East, but if the defense is awful again this year, Prescott could be in the running.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+650): The ageless quarterback finished third in the NFL with 4,633 yards through the air, and that included an early adjustment period after coming over from the New England Patriots. Brady has a star trio of wide receivers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. He will be 44 years old in 2021, but that hasn’t been an issue to this point.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (+850): Allen enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, throwing for 4,544 yards. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loves to call passing plays, and the Bills have an outstanding wide receiver group headlined by Stefon Diggs. However, it’s fair to wonder if regression will rear its head this season. Allen was not nearly as potent through the air his first two seasons.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (+1200): Many are expecting a resurgence for Stafford with the Rams after he spent 12 years toiling with the Lions. Coach Sean McVay is one of the brightest offensive minds in the NFL, and Stafford will have several above average pass-catching weapons at his disposal. Even so, the Rams are usually pretty balanced and have an elite defense, so the passing game volume could be lacking.