The top two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft will face off for the first time Sunday when quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals visit the Washington Football Team and defensive end Chase Young in Landover, Md.
Washington coach Ron Rivera got to meet both players leading up to the draft and said both reminded him of another top pick from years ago -- Cam Newton.
"You just feel it with (Burrow). He and Chase (Young) both have a certain charisma you look for in players," Rivera said. "Both reminded me of Cam. ...Those two are the closest thing I've seen to Cam Newton in that regard."
That charisma has yet to translate into winning games in the NFL, however. The Bengals (2-6-1) have yet to win on the road (0-4-1) this season and are out of the running in the stacked AFC North. Washington (2-7) has lost two consecutive games and seven of its last eight but remains in contention in the weak NFC East.
"They're all must wins as far as I'm concerned," Rivera said.
Young, the No. 2 pick out of Ohio State, has been a plug-and-play option on the defensive line when healthy. He's logged 21 tackles and 3.5 sacks in eight games, all starts.
Burrow, selected No. 1 out of LSU, has thrown for 2,485 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, and earned praise from across the league for his poise, accuracy and the speed with which he's adapted to the pro game. But he's coming off a subpar game in an ugly 36-10 road loss at undefeated Pittsburgh last week when he threw for just 213 yards and the Bengals were 0-for-13 on third down.
Burrow, just 5 of 15 passing in the second half after tweaking his ankle late in the first, brushed off any injury concerns.
"I'm good to go," he said Wednesday.
Washington counters with 36-year-old Alex Smith, who's 13 years older than his counterpart. Smith was brilliant in his first start this season in last week's 30-27 loss to the Detroit Lions. Smith passed for a career-high 390 yards and a career-best 38 completions.
Smith rallied Washington back from a 21-point deficit only to see the Lions win it with a late field goal.
"There was a lot to build off of and get better at," Smith said. "It's been the most comfortable I've felt. It's been a steady progression all the way forward."
Smith's comeback from a gruesome leg injury two years ago is complete, and he's proved to be Washington's best answer at quarterback.
"Alex Smith, he's just won everywhere he's been," Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said.
Both teams will be dealing with fallout from COVID-19 concerns. Washington announced Monday there will be no fans after allowing more than 3,000 in for the previous home game. The franchise had its first positive test for a player this week with defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis.
The Bengals played at Pittsburgh without four assistant coaches because of contact tracing. Cincinnati took cornerback Trae Waynes off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday but added practice squad players defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun and safety Trayvon Henderson to the same list.
"It's next man up for everybody, that includes coaches," Taylor said.
Cincinnati is still awaiting the return of running back Joe Mixon, the team's leading rusher, who has missed three straight games with a foot injury. Mixon did not participate in practice on Wednesday and is considered day-to-day.
"We'll see as the week goes," Taylor said.
The Bengals received encouraging news as CBs LeShaun Sims (concussion) and Mackenzie Alexander (concussion), and offensive linemen Bobby Hart (knee) and Jonah Williams (stinger) both returned in a limited capacity.
Washington had seven players not participate on Wednesday, including kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), offensive linemen Geron Christian (knee) and Cornelius Lucas (ankle), safety Deshazor Everett (ankle), wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (hamstring), defensive end Ryan Anderson (knee) and linebacker Jared Norris (hamstring).
--Field Level Media