Joe Burrow Doesn't Believe in Top 5 Lists

The Bengals quarterback discusses his BodyArmor partnership, Paris Fashion Week, the upcoming NFL season, and more.

Via Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It’s hard to consume any form of sports media these days without hearing about somebody’s Top Five or Top 10 list. If you turn on First Take, you’ll see Stephen A. Smith ranking the top five things that Bronny James should call his father on the court. If you log onto Shaq’s IG, you’ll frequently see him discussing all-time starting 5s and who is better than who. This content is compelling and it creates intriguing conversation, but Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow isn’t here for those lists or comparisons.

“I don't like lists like that because I feel like it takes away from certain people's accomplishments and there's not just a top five of all time,” Burrow tells Complex. “There's not just a top five in the game right now and it can change week to week too.”

Burrow goes on to say that the best quarterback can change any given Sunday (pardon the pun) and that formulating these lists doesn't do anyone any favors. All rankings aside, the Pro Bowler knows that 2024 is a pivotal year for both himself and the Bengals.

They’re coming off a fourth place finish in the ultra-competitive AFC North and a season where Burrow played in only ten games—the second time he has done that across his first four years in the league. 

“I want to be on the field for all the games,” Burrow says. “I know I'm going to play well when I'm out there. I'm at that point in my career where I've seen enough ball and I know myself that I can go out there and play as well as anybody in the game.”

Off the field, Burrow is fresh off the heels of a trip to Paris Fashion Week where he walked in Vogue World and pulled up the Hermes Show with Justin Jefferson. Burrow’s foray into the fashion world should not come as a surprise to those who pay close attention to one of the league’s top quarterbacks. For years he has been making statements with his outfits in the tunnel and aligning himself with some of the more fashionable guys in the league the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jefferson.

Complex linked up with the Bengals QB to discuss the upcoming NFL season, his partnership with BodyArmor, Paris Fashion Week, and much more. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Can you talk a little bit about your partnership with BodyArmor? What has it been like working with them as a brand?
We share similar values. They support my foundation a lot. It's been a great partnership. I hope it continues for years. BodyArmor has played a huge role in my ability to succeed on the field with hydration and then off the field. They support the foundation that's really important to me and my family.

You have your very own bottle of BodyArmor. What's it like to be able to just drink your own bottle and have other people drink a bottle with your name on it?
Yeah, it's pretty interesting because I'll have friends just send me pictures of a cardboard cutout of me or my bottles in the store. So that's always a surreal feeling I would say.

I recently read that you are trying to share more of your personal life with fans. What went into that decision of finally pulling back that curtain?
Honestly, it just became a little exhausting trying to be so private. That has always been really important to me, but as my brand and my persona has grown, it becomes more and more exhausting to try to keep those parts of my life private. So I'm picking and choosing hopefully spots that I can be a little more open with people and that will in turn create a little more privacy on other sides.

For sure, in that spirit, what's one thing that the fans might not know about you that you want them to know?
I’m learning the piano right now, hopefully I can get pretty good at that by next offseason. I guess it'll be pretty tough during the season, but it's helped my rehab too for my wrist, so that's something I want to get good at.

Is the wrist injury why you decided to learn the piano?
I've always wanted to learn how to play, but this was an opportune time to work on my hand and wrist dexterity while also learning that. So it was kind of the perfect storm.

So Paris Fashion Week, you were just out in Paris with some of the most luxurious fashion houses in the world. What was that experience like?
It was definitely different from what I'm used to. I really enjoyed it. A lot of great people out there that I got to meet and will continue to build those relationships, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone a little bit. That was definitely not what I'm used to, the fashion world and the fashion people. And the fashion culture could be as far on the opposite end of the spectrum as you can from football and sports culture. 

What would 10-year-old Joe Burrow have said if you told him like, ‘Hey, you're going to be in Paris Fashion Week walking for one of the most iconic brands in the world’?
Man, if you told little Joe what my life would be like now, it would be crazy. There would be no way that he would've believed anything that's going on in my life right now, which is a crazy feeling to kind of look back and think about achieving a lot of dreams and dreams that I didn't even know that I had at the time.

You mentioned Ja’Marr and Justin, they're big fashion guys, big into jewelry. Have they brought you over to the jewelry world yet?
Yeah, so they wore gold grills in the National Championship game and I told them, ‘If you buy me one, I'll wear it in the game.’ But they didn't end up buying me one. So I think that would've been a pretty crazy moment had I won that wearing them. But then Ja’Marr ended up getting me a diamond grill before the Super Bowl that I didn't end up wearing, but I've got some nice jewelry back at the house.

Who are your top five most fashionable guys in the NFL?
I'm putting myself on that list, I'll put Ja’Marr on that list,  I'll give him that. Chidobe [Awuzie] I would put on that list. Von Bell, I would put on that list. I'm going to say all the guys on my team here. 

How ‘bout one guy not on the Bengals?
One guy not on the Bengals, I’ll say Odell.

He's an LSU guy, you kind of cheated.
Yeah. [Laughs.]

Moving on to football, the pool of talent at the quarterback position is as deep as it’s ever been in the history of the NFL, can you speak to why you might think that is and is it extra motivation for you?
I wouldn't say that's a motivation for me. I would say my motivation has kind of shifted. At the beginning of my career, I was kind of driven by the doubters and the criticism. Now I'm more so driven just by consistent improvement. I think once you hit a certain point, the negative motivation can only get you so far. And if you're just focused on getting better every day, continued improvement of your craft, your body, your mind, then I think that's the best way to go about it.

What is it about the talent pool right now? Why do you think there is such an influx of talent in that position?
I think it starts in the youth leagues. Quarterback coaches are getting better. They're teaching kids how to throw the ball better. They're learning football at a younger age and so when they get to college, they are much more polished than people were 10 years ago. That means they're going to be more polished when they get to the NFL. So if that continues, you're going to continue to have more and more talent in the NFL and you're going to have guys that are continuing to play really well. 

I think it's an exciting time. It's also a very diverse set of skills that all these guys have. We're not all playing the game the same way they were 15 or 20 years ago. You can watch a game on Sunday and watch a guy go run for 150 yards and then you can watch a guy stay in the pocket and throw for 350. 

You mentioned improvement as a motivating factor for you. What does improvement look like for you for this next upcoming season?
Well, number one, I want to be on the field for all the games. I know I'm going to play well when I'm out there. I'm at that point in my career where I've seen enough ball and I know myself that I can go out there and play as well as anybody in the game. The biggest strides this year are going to be my body and learning how to get through the season, get through practices with my body, feeling tip, top shape. And so that's the main focus for the off-season.

So yourself very much included, who are your top five quarterbacks in the NFL?
I'm going to stay away from that one. There’s so many good ones. But I mean, I think we were just talking about it earlier, there's so many good ones right now that it's just an exciting time because there's so many guys that are playing the game at a high level. And like I said, diverse skill sets are a lot of fun to watch.

So I don't like lists like that because I feel like it takes away from certain people's accomplishments and there's not just a top five of all time. There's not just a top five in the game right now and it can change week to week. The guy that's the best one Sunday isn't going to be the best next Sunday. So many ups and downs. I just think that those lists aren't really serving anybody. There've been so many great quarterbacks that have paved the way for other great quarterbacks to come after them. So I think those lists kind of take away from that. 

Your division is obviously projected to be the toughest in the NFL, with four potential playoff teams. What's it like going into a season knowing that you got at least six games against hard-nosed, playoff ready teams?
Yeah, it's always a challenge because the defenses that we play in this division are the best in the NFL. It's always a physical game. We know them, they know us. There hasn't been any big rebuilds for the last five years since I've been in the league in this division. So we're playing the same guys. We know each other and it's an exciting time for this division. If you win it, you're usually going to be the number one or number two seed, and it's exciting to see how it plays out. Baltimore is a team to beat. They won it last year. We won the two years before that, so we gotta get back on top.

What's it going to take to knock the Chiefs off the top of this year? What do you see as their potential weakness this year?
We'll have to wait and see. That's what's so exciting about the NFL. I think every year is so different. What are going to be your strong points and what are going to be your weak points until five, six weeks into the year. At the beginning you're just trying to find yourself and the teams that find themselves the fastest are the ones that have great training camps. 

That's what I'm focused on, getting out to training camp and trying to get better every day. And we will focus on the Chiefs when we have to focus on 'em. They're week two, so I'm excited about getting 'em early this year, but we'll see 'em when we see 'em.

The landscape of college sports is drastically changing with the introduction of NIL. What are your thoughts on NIL?
I think it's good for the players. I think what's clear is that the old system wasn't the way that it should work. I think there was too much money involved in that product that the players weren't really seeing. I'm not quite sure that this is the answer either. 

I think that potentially if you're going to be paying players, I feel like there should be some kind of contract involved where maybe you can't transfer for a certain amount of years if you're going to get paid to play. I think that's more of a semi-pro mindset. People have invested a lot more time than I have in this thought experiment, but I'm not sure this is the answer either.

Do you wish it was around when you were playing?
Hell yeah I wish it was around when I was playing [Laughs.] People said I would've made a lot. I don't think I really would've made as much as people think because I didn't really wasn't at that level of stardom until the last half or last quarter of my senior year. At that point I would've been so focused on the season that I wouldn't have been doing too much stuff like that. And then after the year, it would've been time for the NFL and I got paid anyway. 

So I think it's been most beneficial for female athletes because they're not getting paid as much when they get to the pro and some of 'em don't even have pro leagues, but you can see a lot of stars emerge and the growth of the women's game, I think in large part because of NIL

A lot of people mention your LSU team and the pantheon of all-time great college football teams. Do you agree with that?
Oh, I think we're the best. It's either the ‘02 Hurricanes or it's us. I think time will tell because I don't think you can really make that decision until everybody's pro careers are over and see how many Hall of Famers and Pro Bowls and Super Bowls there are, because the ‘02 Hurricanes had a lot, but I would put our guys up against anybody. 

As someone who benefited greatly from the transfer portal, what are your thoughts on the current state of it and how it's switching up college sports?
When I transferred, the transfer portal started the year after I transferred. So I still had to graduate from Ohio State to transfer. I would've loved to have the transfer portal when I was back playing because I had to grind school for four semesters and load up on credits to make sure I graduated in three years so I can go play for two. 

I think it's great for people like that in that position because there's a lot of guys who are just sitting behind really good players at top schools that could transfer and go make a name for themselves. So I think that's good. I think you have to find the right balance between NIL and that to really figure that out.

Do you think it's exciting for players that don't necessarily have professional careers ahead of them to almost be a part of a free agency-ish type system?
Yeah, 100% because I mean, there've been so many great college players that haven't been great NFL players and didn't have the careers that they wanted that could have made so much money in college. Guys like Braxton Miller and JT Barrett who were essentially four year starters and the faces of big time college football schools and college football in general, that could have made millions of dollars while they were playing that didn't have that chance to do that and then didn't have the NFL careers that they wanted to really make that money. So I think that in that aspect is great.

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