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Is Jake Browning a Contender for the Bengals’ QB2 Spot?

Jake Browning was only supposed to play the second half of Friday’s night preseason game against Arizona, but he was forced into action early and played well. Could he make a run at the position previously secured by Brandon Allen?

Friday’s night preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals had a lot of takeaway for the Bengals. Dax Hill and Evan McPherson looked fantastic! Jackson Carman and Thaddeus Moss looked…less fantastic. However, one of the biggest things that stood out to many fans watching was something that very few likely would have seen coming going into the game. Jake Browning, the fourth-year undrafted quarterback from Washington, looked solid running the offense after Brandon Allen went down with an injury.

Browning, a star high school quarterback who went on to have an up-and-down career in college, has been relegated to a practice squad player for the entirety of his NFL career, and it’s not too difficult to see why. He lacks the arm strength that is requisite of most professional quarterbacks in this day and age and a shoulder injury he suffered in college could be the primary reason for that. Additionally, his play had been below average in his previous preseason showings in Minnesota. When the Bengals picked him up to be the practice squad quarterback last August, it likely represented his last chance to stick in the NFL.

If Friday night was any indication, Browning has taken some lessons from working behind star quarterback Joe Burrow. The last time we saw him in preseason action, he looked very poor for the Vikings, not even completing 50% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. His game against the Cardinals looked like a return to college form for Browning, showing excellent anticipation on crossing routes down the field and even hitting some big shots. We even saw a little bit of “Burrow magic” on a couple of plays where the putrid backup offensive line fell apart. So the question stands: did Browning do enough to make the Bengals think about moving him ahead of Brandon Allen?

Why Browning Should Be QB2

Browning entered the game at the end of the first quarter, much earlier than he or anyone else could have anticipated after Allen was forced to leave with a concussion. The offense to that point had been nonexistent, and with a veteran backup now forced out and a career practice squad guy coming in, it was fair to assume it would be much of the same. Despite that, Browning came out swinging on his first passing play, delivering a great ball to a diving Trent Taylor deep down the field for the first real offensive push the Bengals had all night.

.@Trent5Taylor blanketed and STILL made the catch. @Bengals 📱: Stream #AZvsCIN on NFL+ — NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2022

This play shows one of the things that made Browning intriguing as a player at the college level: his anticipation. Seeing Taylor come across about 30 yards deep, the quarterback got the ball to a spot where only Taylor could make a play on it. While Browning had a clean pocket on this play, that would not be the case for much of the night. Despite that, he was still able to make plays, like this one to undrafted rookie Kendric Pryor.

This play is kind of insane?@jake_browning @_KPryor3 @Bengals 📱: Stream #AZvsCIN on NFL+ — NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2022

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but that looked like a B-tier version of the exact play that Burrow made to Tee Higgins in his rookie season against the Titans. Browning isn’t going to be confused for Lamar Jackson anytime soon, but if he can bring that type of escapability and off-script playmaking on a down-to-down basis, there is reason to believe that he could be a better emergency plan if Burrow were to ever go down than Allen.

Why Browning Shouldn’t Be QB2

However, there is an elephant in the room when it comes to Browning that made itself painfully obvious on Friday night: his arm just is not going to cut it. Even on that ball to Taylor, he is putting his entire body into the throw and it goes…about 32 yards. Allen is a flawed quarterback, and he doesn’t exactly have a cannon himself, but any NFL quarterback worth their salt can throw the ball 30+ yards downfield. There were also a ton of balls that Browning threw that were complete floaters and likely would have been picked off if his opponents were not practice squad players themselves. Even in the best game of his NFL career, Browning still completed just over 50% of his passes with no touchdowns and an 80.2 passer rating, which is fine, but not exactly groundbreaking. Additionally, Browning was not able to lead a touchdown drive until his last series of the game, which is not all on him but does make you wonder how ready he would be to step in if needed.

Overall though, Browning did show enough in his preseason debut to at least make the QB2 battle a competition. With Allen suffering a concussion, it is difficult to say when or if he will be back during the preseason, and with Burrow still working his way back from his appendectomy, Browning will have more chances in practice with the first team offense this week. If he can impress there and in the next two preseason games, there is reason to believe that he could push Allen to be the primary clipboard-holder on the Bengals’ sideline in 2022.

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