NBC's Chris Simms remained buttoned up before Tuesday's last unveiling of his top 40 NFL quarterbacks. But given the Bengals' Joe Burrow is one those yet ranked, he thinks enough of him to put him in the final four.
Simms wouldn't rank Burrow, the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, the Bills' Josh Allen and the Chargers' Justin Herbert ahead of his Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. While spending Monday at Paul Brown Stadium conducting interviews in the run up to next month's training camps, Simms did explain why he's got these four ahead of No. 5 Aaron Rodgers.
"They've gone to another level," Simms said. "Is (Burrow) as smart as Rodgers yet? No, but he's still really smart. To me, the big thing is his ability to do things when things aren't perfect with the offense.
"Rodgers played very conservatively. He turned down some throws. 'We'll let the game play out,'" Simms said of Green Bay's 13-10 loss to the 49ers in the playoffs. "To me, that's where (Burrow) and the other guys I mentioned (say), 'No. Our foot is on your throat, we're going to close it off. It's over. I'm going to make a few plays. Now a blocked punt isn't going to hurt us and we're not going to lose the game in some freak way … No way Joe Burrow goes out like that against the 49ers. He would have tried to make a play. Force the issue."
Simms looks at Burrow's final snap of last season, that desperate incomplete heave before the Rams' Aaron Donald hit him with 39 seconds left, and that's exactly what he is talking about. Burrow held on to the ball for that split second on fourth-and-one because he knew wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was matched one-on-one with L.A. cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
"Aggressive," Simms said. "Those four quarterbacks, it's never, 'Oh, he's kind of open, I'll take the check down.' Never. It's always aggressive. It puts tremendous pressure on the defense and they make you defend the whole field. "
Simms puts Burrow ahead of not only Rodgers, but also the man who beat him in the Super Bowl, No. 6 Matthew Stafford, nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson at No. 7 and No. 8 Tom Brady, the GOAT Burrow meets for the first time Dec. 18 in Tampa Bay. He says Burrow is in the conversation for top quarterback in the game because of the "IT Factor," which he defines as a combination of intangibles and talent.
The play that did it for Simms came in the Jan. 2 AFC North clincher over the Chiefs. While bringing the Bengals back from three 14-point deficits, Burrow opened the second half scoring with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Chase running down the left sideline on a pass Burrow dropped over the cornerback and safety set up too low in a zone.
"Oh man, this dude sees it all," Simms thought and he confirmed it a few weeks later. "At the end of the second quarter he threw a slot out route that was a little tight and hairy and it was incomplete. The guy going up the sideline was in a Cover 2 hole and he was there. Then the second half started and they called the same play and he got the same coverage and he looked at the guy running the slot out route and he knew from the pictures and looking at it, that the guy outside (would be there).
"So he looked at it and hit Chase in the hole. I asked him about it before the playoff game. 'You saw that and said you have to change back to that?' and he said yes. That to me says it."
Simms won't tip his hand on his top quarterback, but gives Chase the nod over the 49ers' Deebo Samuel as his top wide receiver. Again, he goes back to that Week 17 game at PBS against the Chiefs, when Burrow's 72-yard touchdown pass on Chase's catch-and-run put the Bengals on the board. About 60 yards came after Chase caught it in the middle of the field and ran away from the pack.
"He can do the things within the offense that you've got planned, but it's just the physical gifts," Simms said. "Just beat that guy or get open against him no matter who it is, it's off the charts.
"The Chiefs defense has some dudes that can fly. The fact he could just run away from them … The L'Jarius Sneads of the world, Charvarius Ward, Juan Thornhill, they're all 4.3 guys and they haven't gained a step on him yet."
Simms is suitably impressed. He believes he spent Monday in the home of a team that's going to contend for a while. He's not going to put the Bengals back in the upcoming Super Bowl or deep in the playoffs. He says that's not the point.
"I look at that team and there's no glaring weakness at any position on the field," Simms said. "Everybody has a belief the quarterback is only going to get better. I have a hard time thinking you're not in the thick of things here for a number of years to come. That's what you want. Just be in the mix. To me, the way the league is set up in 2022, its set up for passing and its set up for a good quarterback to take over the end of the game and you've got that."