2020: A Huge Year for Josh Allen

Wyoming QB Josh Allen was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the #7 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft over Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson. Two years later and Rosen’s reputation has plummeted, and Jackson is the NFL’s reigning MVP.

Josh Allen: The Wildcard

An argument could be made that Buffalo’s Josh Allen has outperformed his draft class rivals (Jackson’s meteoric rise aside). He took his team to the play-offs in 2019, and for a time looked as though he would lead his side beyond Wildcard Weekend. They took the game to the Houston Texans from the outset, with Allen playing a leading role. The Bills opening drive showcased the best of Allen – a designed run play that took the offence into the red zone, and a calculated trick play that saw Allen receive a touchdown pass from wideout John Brown.

As the game wore on, we saw the drawbacks surrounding Allen as a signal caller. After the two minute warning with his side down by 5, Allen was called for an intentional grounding penalty and sacked on 4th down. The Bills defence gave Allen another opportunity to turn the game around, only for him to nearly hand the ball back on a failed lateral pass.

First Time Jitters

A field goal took the game into overtime. Once more, the Bills D kept the Texans at bay. Allen managed to extend the play on a 3rd and 9 and find Devin Singletary for a first down. It looked as though a topsy-turvy performance from Allen would end with a victory. In the end, 15 yard penalty for a blind-side block from Cody Ford put an end to Buffalo’s playoff journey. That, and some magic from Deshaun Watson.

In that wildcard weekend game, we saw the good, bad and ugly of Josh Allen. He has the creativity to extend plays and top class arm strength. He can scramble for yards when play calls breakdown. He’s been well coached, and the Bills front office has built a roster around his abilities. However, his downfield accuracy is poor and he doesn’t always protect the ball well. Running Quarterbacks don’t last as long in the NFL – he has to develop his passing game if he wants to make the most of his career.

In 2019, Allen threw 20 touchdowns and rushed for another 9. In terms of total touchdowns from his Draft class, only MVP Lamar Jackson outperformed him (43). Naturally, his ability to contribute to the run game meant that he threw just 193 yards per game. Compare that with Jackson’s 209, Sam Darnold’s 233, and Baker Mayfield’s 239. Always an exciting player to watch, Allen would do well to throw the ball more often and with better accuracy.

One step forwards… 

Allen’s pass accuracy remains his biggest concern. In his last year at Wyoming, he completed just 56.3% of his passes. Two years in the NFL, and this has risen to just 58.8%. Not only did other first round picks Mayfield, Darnold and Jackson outperform him, but so did third round pick (and Steelers backup) Mason Rudolph. Can the Bills expect long term success with a QB who misses on 40% of his throws?

Although he threw just 9 interceptions in his sophomore year, he fumbled on 14 occasions. Remarkably, just 4 of these were lost to the opposition. These numbers look even more impressive when compared with Mayfield and Darnold. Under the dismal reign of Freddie Kitchens, Baker threw 21 INTs and 2 lost fumbles. Broadway Sam was intercepted 13 times in as many starts, and lost 3 fumbles.

Lamar Jackson has surpassed all expectations to this point. An exciting dual threat Quarterback with an excellent coaching staff, he has undoubtedly been the best quarterback of the 2018 Draft class so far. The pressure is on for Mayfield and Darnold – they were expected to turn their franchises around, and they’ve yet to do it. Poor coaching and even worse offensive lines have hampered their progress until now. The Browns can boast an impressive supporting cast at wide receiver, something Darnold will envy.

The Year Ahead

Which brings us to the situation Josh Allen finds himself in. He’s been good in areas of his game where he was expected to shine, but the concerns of draft scouts have been confirmed also. Most statistics suggest that he’s progressed at a faster rate than Mayfield and Darnold. He had the #21 offensive line in the league in 2019, an improvement from his rookie year which led to a reduction in pressures. With Stefon Diggs joining him in western New York, Buffalo fans will hope that Allen finally has a speedster with the pace to match his deep pass. Diggs is coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, and averaged 18 yards per catch last year. Like Baker with Odell Beckham Jnr, the supporting cast is in place. If Diggs can create separation downfield, we may see a reduction in Allen’s overthrows.

In a Tom Brady-less AFC East, the New England Patriots have never been so vulnerable. Buffalo are in the pole position to take advantage. The Miami Dolphins are two very important drafts away from building a roster that can challenge for the conference. Under Adam Gase, the New York Jets have shown no signs of turning into a playoff team. Bills Mafia have every reason to expect success next season, but a lot depends on whether Josh Allen can cut out his mistakes and develop into a top tier quarterback.

Tom Scott @downthemannyrd

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