For more than two decades Bills fans wanted nothing more than to find some sense of stability at the QB position. Every season it seemed the carousel would go round and round and when it stopped, we found another journeymen or busted draft pick under center. The list of QBs who started for the Bills reads more like an SNL comedy sketch than NFL roster. Regime after regime has tried to fix the problem, drafting the likes of JP Losman, Trent Edwards, EJ Manuel and Nathan Peterman, while some chose to take flyers on Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tyrod Taylor; still the quarterback woes in Buffalo continued. That is until Brandon Beane took a gamble on the largely unrecruited kid form the rural town of Firebaugh, California, the big armed QB from the University of Wyoming named Josh Allen.
Allen was widely considered the rawest of the top QBs in 2018 (Mayfield, Rosen, Allen) and many experts warned about his boom or bust potential during the draft process. He had the strongest arm in the class, was a big physical specimen with surprising athletic ability but aside from his physical tools Allen was a vastly incomplete quarterback. He lacked production at Wyoming and had proven accuracy issues that would surely limit his potential to develop at the next level. Scouts have long believed when it comes to quarterbacks, mechanical problems could be fixed, decision making could be improved, processing coverages could be taught but accuracy is a talent you either have or you don’t. When Allen was selected by Buffalo with the 7th overall pick in 2018 the concern for his development grew. Buffalo was not exactly known for grooming young quarterback talent and the fit seemed like a square peg in a round hole. Allen did little in his rookie year to break that stigma, as he barely completed 50% of his passes (52.8%) ranking 30th overall. His mechanics were rough, his accuracy was wild and any success he had was plagued by poor decision making. While Allen’s play was concerning, he did have little to work with, working with a rag-tag receiving corps that consisted of UDFA Robert Foster, a mediocre Zay Jones and passionless Kelvin Benjamin.
Over the span of the following two seasons with a revamped offense around him, Allen went on to not only vastly improve his overall game, but he did something few thought possible, he fixed his accuracy. By the end of 2020 he had become one of the most accurate passers in the NFL. He finished a tad under 70% completions (69.23%) ranking him just fractions behind the league leader. Much of this improvement has been credited to his off-season work with independent quarterback coach Jordan Palmer, who had this to say about his young pupil last season. “Josh Allen is the most physically gifted quarterback to ever play in the NFL.” That is high praise considering the long list of talented players to step in under center but is he wrong? Allen has one of, if not the strongest arms in the league. We have seen him flick the ball 40 yards on a rope off his back foot with defenders hanging on his waist, we’ve seen him launch missiles 60 yards in the air as he rolled to his left throwing across his body and we’ve seen him thread the needle with laser beams splitting double coverage to hit his man in stride. Aside from his elite arm strength, Allen is an imposing specimen who stands 6’5 and tips the scales at nearly 245lbs. Despite being built more like a tight end than a QB, Allen is extremely athletic. His highlight reel is loaded with plays showcasing his uncanny ability to evade the rush, to flush out of the pocket and gash defenses for huge chunks of yards. He has run past defenders; he has leaped over them and he has barreled through them enroute to 1,562 career rushing yards and 25 TDs in three seasons. While Palmer has been smitten by Allen’s physical tools he also claims “We’re not even close to the ceiling.” When referring to his work with Allen, which is extremely scary considering the MVP caliber season he had last year. So, the question must be asked: How high is Josh Allen’s ceiling?
Gauging Allen’s future is far from an exact science but what is undeniable is his historic maturation. To project his ceiling, we can rely on those who know him best, those who work with him and have seen him grow. One man who is convinced of Allen’s impending greatness is former Bills legend and Hall of Fame QB, Jim Kelly who has been a huge supporter of the young signal caller since his arrival. When asked if Allen will be his successor as the franchise QB recently, Kelly had this to say: “There’s no doubt, I mean if he’s gone, I don’t know who is or who it’s going to be. He just has to be consistent and I know him well enough to know that the kid can play. If you can get the right material around him, which I think he has, and the offensive line gives him time to throw, things will be awesome…. And talk about my records, I knew before last season started that those records aren’t going to stay around very long.” Josh Allen already owns several Bills records: Most total touchdowns in a single season (45) Most passing TDs in a single season (38) Most passing yards in a single season (4,544) Most completions in a single season (396) While Allen has a way to go to break all the records in Buffalo, given the talent on this offense and the pass happy system in place it seems a forgone conclusion that he will eventually take ownership of all the records.
The prolonged success of a young quarterback is dependent on stability, and Allen has plenty of that around him. Unlike most young QBs Allen has been blessed to have the same Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator in place since he arrived. Head Coach Sean McDermott had this to say about Allen after his last seasons performance. “I can tell you- and you’ve watched it, Josh Allen is a very good quarterback and one we can win with for years to come… Does that mean he’s perfect? No. Does that mean he’s got work to do? Yes.”
Brian Daboll told Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News recently that Allen has “Turned the page” on 2020. Going on to say “He is really the same guy every day since he’s been here. He’s got an underdog mentality. He’s a grinder, he’s never satisfied. He loves to practice. He’s competitive in the meeting rooms. He’s not relying on what happened the year before or anything like that.” Those who have spent any time around sports, at any level know that complacency is a killer, and it appears that Josh Allen has not allowed it to enter his approach. This should excite Bills Mafia as they enter 2021, a season where many believe the Bills can repeat as AFC East Champions and not only reach the AFC Championship game but take it a step further by making the Superbowl.
Ken Dorsey who was recently promoted to Quarterback Coach and has been credited with much of Allen’s success has said this about the continued approach to Allen’s development. “We just want to continue to make sure that we’re getting well-rounded and continue to improve in all aspects because that’s the long-term goal. There are short-term in these specific areas and wanting to improve and everything, but also we want Josh to have a 15-year career of being a great quarterback in this league and the only way to do that is to harp on it and focus on the entirety of your game and becoming a well-rounded football player from A to Z.”
Someone who knows Allen better than anyone else and where he needs to improve to become the best version of himself is Josh Allen. In a recent interview with NFL Network’s Kim Jones taken after OTA’s Allen was asked “Did you do some self-evaluation after last season… how you can improve?” to which Allen replied “Decision making, as far as where the ball should go in any given situation… Understanding and being better in situational football… Ball security in the pocket and while I take off running… As many good things as we did last year I still look back on tape and say why did I do this?”
By all accounts it appears that Allen and those around him understand that the past is the past and success is not guaranteed. The hunger and desire to improve, to be champions is evidenced by their off-season efforts that began almost immediately after the Kansas City loss. With the return of super star WR Stephon Diggs, with the growth of Gabriel Davis, with the mismatch ability of Cole Beasley from the slot and the addition of veteran route runner Emanuel Sanders this offense can out due it’s 2020 self. If that happens the football world will certainly witness the evolution of Josh Allen and it will bring into focus just how good this 25-year-old can be.