Burroughs was selected by the Washington Senators with the first overall pick in the June 1969 draft. Late in the year, he joined the Senators at age of 19. Considered a "good bat-no field" kind of player, Burroughs was a considerable slugging threat during his playing days. Defensively, he was capable but slow.
In four full seasons with the Texas Rangers, Burroughs averaged 25.5 home runs a year with a high of 30 homers in 1973. His most productive season came in 1974, when he batted .301 with 25 home runs and a league-leading and career-high 118 RBIs and was selected the American League MVP, making him one of only six overall number-one picks to win the MVP title (the others are Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Joe Mauer and Josh Hamilton) and the first Ranger to win the award. During the 1974 season, Burroughs was at the center of the violent Ten Cent Beer Night debacle in Cleveland, where Burroughs was one of the targets of thrown objects and a few punches by unruly and inebriated Cleveland fans, in a game that was forfeited to Texas.
Burroughs was selected an All-Star in both 1974 with the Rangers and 1978 as a member of the Atlanta Braves, when he entered the All-Star break with a National League leading .324 Batting Average. Burroughs was also named AL Player of the Year and selected as an OF on the AL All-Star team by The Sporting News his MVP season of 1974.
As a member of the Atlanta Braves, in 1977 Burroughs collected 114 RBIs and hit 41 home runs, the latter number surpassed only by Cincinnati Reds outfielder George Foster (52). Burroughs had fans who maintained a large banner below the right field deck titled "Jeff's Jackpot", which displayed his home run total for the season plus one.
Late in his career, Burroughs was still a valuable hitter, being used mainly as a DH and pinch hitter. After he retired, Burroughs later coached his son's Little League team, the Long Beach All-Stars; with Sean as their star player, these teams won the Little League World Series in both 1992 (they actually lost the championship game, but were later awarded the title by forfeit after their opponents were found to have used no fewer than 14 ineligible players) and 1993.