The NFL draft’s last two No. 1 overall picks will duel from the quarterback position Thursday night in the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence. Cincinnati is knotted with the Ravens and Browns at the top of a competitive AFC North, coming off a 24-10 dispatching of the Steelers for its most impressive performance thus far. Jacksonville is looking every bit the rebuild it was supposed to be with a roster lacking in star power, a first-time NFL coach and a rookie QB.
Here are four things to watch Thursday night when the Bengals host the Jaguars:
- Picks aplenty. For Lawrence, progress at this point means posting a zero in the turnover column. Through three games, he’s already thrown more interceptions (seven) than he did all of last season at Clemson (five). The offense has been more or less on the rookie’s shoulders without much help around him, so it’s much too soon to assess Lawrence’s potential. His gunslinger mentality needs more dynamic receiving targets to pay dividends; for now, he could help his cause by better-recognizing when to settle for checkdowns and throwaways. And offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s increasing reliance on running back James Robinson can help, too.
- Burrow is back. It’s amazing what a little protection can do. Coming off a reconstructed knee, Burrow looked uncomfortable in the preseason and took 10 sacks over Cincinnati’s first two games, five in each. His pass protection took a major step forward against Pittsburgh last week, allowing zero sacks, and he responded with three TD passes in an efficient if not dynamic outing. The Jaguars' pass rush has been dismal with just four sacks in three games. Unless Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen has a dominant night coming off the edge, all signs point to a big night for Burrow.
- Jags debut Arnold, minus Henderson. We’ll learn more about how expendable former first-round pick C.J. Henderson really was in the Jaguars secondary. Traded to Carolina this week for tight end Dan Arnold, Henderson had played about half of Jacksonville’s defensive snaps for the year (104), despite being inactive in Week 3. Cornerback Tre Herndon, who has yet to play this season due to a knee injury, is expected to make his season debut filling Henderson’s shoes. At the expense of dealing away a young talent at a premium position, the Jags hope Arnold can aid in Lawrence’s development by offering him a legitimate target in the middle of the field. Given that Henderson was a top-10 pick just two drafts ago, Herndon and Arnold will be playing under brighter lights.
- Chase taking the top off. For all the alarms about Bengals first-round draft pick Ja'Marr Chase dropping passes in the preseason, he’s been gold in the three weeks since the scoreboard began mattering. He’s logged four TD catches in his first three career games, the youngest NFL player to do so, per NFL Research, and he’s taking the top off the defense to do it. Chase’s NextGen Stats route chart shows he’s been targeted on five deep balls, and put three of them in the end zone from distances of 50, 42 and 34 yards. The aforementioned Jaguars secondary will need to be watchful of go routes from the speedy rookie.