The Joe Burrow Draft is in the books and fittingly it seems to be as much about intelligence and intangibles as much as it is innate physical talent.
The gurus must agree. It looks to be the Bengals' highest graded media draft maybe ever. CBS made them the big winner. The Sporting News gave them an A-plus, while USA Today, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation all weighed in at A-minus.
With the overall No. 1 pick Burrow is expected to set the culture by bringing the ultimate gym rat mentality to Paul Brown Stadium as a coach's son who wears the captain's C easily. And, like Burrow is supposed to do, he brought the Bengals along this draft weekend.
They'll have to start calling Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin "Captain Obvious." After Burrow, they drafted five more captains and, naturally, the last one, the seventh-round pick, Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey, is a co-captain pursuing his master's in leadership.
(It would have been a perfect seven-for-seven, but wide receiver Tee Higgins left Clemson as a junior. Still, here's a guy with a captain's pedigree, a stud everywhere he's been as Tennessee's Mr. Basketball runner-up and Clemson's Mr. Clutch national title game receiver called by his position coach "A great teammate who is loved by his peers.")
One of them, third-round middle linebacker Logan Wilson, is a three-time captain. Another captain, sixth-round offensive lineman Hakeem Ajenidi, tied a Kansas record with 48 career starts at tackle.
And yet another captain, Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, is also a coach's son. Keith Gaither, the Army wide receivers coach, couldn't be with him Saturday in Greensboro, N.C. when the call came from the Bengals at the top of the fourth round because he stayed at West Point in deference to the pandemic.
But he would certainly understand what Bengals head coach Zac Taylor is trying to do with his locker room after going though a 2-14 season last year in his rookie season.
"We're not just trying to win games — we're trying to win championships," Taylor said. "Ultimately, you have to think long-term with that championship mindset. People that are willing to work harder than any team in the league. We feel like we've added the right people. Not for one second did we compromise talent with the guys we added.
"Sometimes you can say someone is a high character guy, but you maybe have to research to find out if the talent is good enough. Our staff did an excellent job of finding the right guys with combinations of both things — character and talent. That's going to make us a better team."
Taylor has been talking about changing the brew in the locker room ever since his first season got off to a rocky start. They were good guys last year, don't get him wrong. Hard-trying guys that played to the gun. Love those guys.
But he's looking for an edge. Edgy good guys. He certainly seems to have sharpened something after last month's free-agent haul netted six defensive players that were coming off play-off teams, a draft that started off with two foes that stared down each other in the national championship game in Burrow and Higgins and five straight captains off the board, including Davis-Gaither, the guy the Bengals coaches appointed captain of the defense at the Senior Bowl.
"When you say a guy with an edge, that's a guy who's not afraid to hold his teammates to a higher standard," Taylor said. "They have a killer instinct on the field playing against an opponent, but at the same time, that's not where most of your time is spent. Most of your time is spent in meeting rooms, on practice fields, or doing individual stuff. We're going to get to where we want to go if not just the coaches hold the players to a high standard, but the players hold themselves to that standard."
The kids seem to get it. They're not only captains, but quick and not just in the legs. You're talking about a guy like Ajenidi that got accepted to the Air Force Academy. "He's a Brainiac," says offensive line coach Jim Turner. You're talking about a guy like Bailey, a kid that finished in the top ten percent of his high school class and a perennial member of the Big Ten All-Academic team with grade-point averages he says were usually better than 3.5 at a school that produces astronauts.
And there's Burrow, a guy that flipped through protections with offensive coordinator Brian Callahan with such ease that Callahan called him "advanced."
"I always wanted to be able to stand out there and be a leader on the team," said Davis-Gaither, "and really be that go to guy on the team that all the guys want to be around and that they want to take some notes from and just be a role model on the team."
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo actually heard the term "football junkie," applied to Bailey on Friday while making his last checks. That's another form of gym rat. Anarumo, who coached at Purdue for eight years before he arrived in the league in 2012, still has a good handle on West Lafayette and the coaches over there told him they always had to throw Bailey out of the facility.
"I don't think that's a bad thing to hear about yourself," Bailey said, laughing. "I would agree with that. I love watching film, learning how to diagnose plays and understand the game on a deeper level. I feel like there's always something you can do to get better. Not necessarily running your body down by doing an endless amount of reps, but quality of reps and figuring how to actually improve. The details are what has made my game so good to this point."
The oldest cliché in a draft, next to best available player is saying you're surprised when a player is on the board before taking him. But that looked to be true in this one for the Bengals.
They had Higgins gone in the first before taking him in the second and after Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks got swiped six picks ahead of them at No. 27, they never though they'd get both Wilson and Davis-Gaither. Turner thought his guy would be gone by the fourth and they thought Bailey had the production of guy that would go before the seventh and he probably would have if not for two torn ACLs.
CBS Sports said all the Bengals' picks, but fifth-round Notre Dame defensive lineman Khalid Kareem were homers. And they still gave the Bengals a single for Kareem. But, really? The Bengals took him with the 147th pick and the Pro Football Focus big board had him at No. 132. And the Bengals like the potential of him being able to play some edge as well as inside.
Another coach's son, Kareem also holds one of the most honored titles in the college game.
"Being a captain at Notre Dame, that's something I definitely take a lot of pride in," Kareem said. "That's player-voted, so that just shows in the eyes of my peers that I was a guy they looked up to. That's definitely something I took close to heart – leading a bunch of guys trying to be the best for them – and for myself at the end of the day."
At the end of this day, it sounded like Taylor's New Dey was stirring.
"I feel like we're starting something new," Ajenidi said. "All these talented guys ... I want to come in and do my part. In a few years, you're going to see the tide turn, and we're going to be a team that shocks people."