I’m here to talk about Buffalo Bills rookie QB Josh Allen. I want to focus on the areas he must grow in to find success and develop into the the player Buffalo believed he could become when drafting him with pick No. 7 in the 2018 NFL Draft. I don’t have an agenda and I’m not trying to push any narratives.
The book on Josh Allen remains unwritten. He’s started four NFL games and the Bills are 2-2 with him under center.
Let me also say that I’m extremely familiar with Josh Allen and have watched every snap he’s played since the start of 2016. That’s no lie; that’s my job. I come to you with a high understanding of who Allen is as a player.
Much has been made about Buffalo’s supporting cast and it’s a major concern. The Bills have arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL and the offensive line doesn’t exactly feature many starting-caliber players. Playing Allen in this environment certainly doesn’t enhance his development or instill him with confidence that the talent around him will execute and make plays for him. Obviously that needs to be kept in mind when considering how Allen has performed to date.
With all of that said, Allen’s deficiencies run much deeper than his lackluster supporting cast. His mechanics, processing and decision-making ability fall well short of desirable NFL standards. A lot of where Josh Allen “fails” has nothing to do with his teammates.
In Buffalo’s Week 5 win over the Titans, Allen completed just 10-of-19 passes for 82 yards with an interception. Among those 19 passing attempts (21 drop backs), many of the inconsistencies that have plagued Allen since 2016 were again revealed.
In the pass-happy NFL, 82 passing yards in a game is an extremely low yardage output — but its fairly normal for Allen. In 11 starts in 2017 at Wyoming, Allen produced less than 100 yards passing on three occasions:
- vs Oregon: 9-of-24, 64 yards, 0 TD, INT
- vs Hawaii: 9-of-19, 92 yards, TD
- vs Air Force: 8-of-11, 70 yards, TD (Missed most of 2nd half with injury)
Allen had three other games in 2017 with 154 passing yards or less, meaning that 6 of his 11 starts during his final season at Wyoming produced between 64 and 154 yards through the air. On average, he produced 164 passing yards. In 25 career starts in college, Allen eclipsed 300 yards passing only twice: against UNLV and Gardner-Webb. He’s never been an overly productive passer.
Making mention of his numbers is important to provide a foundation for this discussion. It’s an unfair expectation to have, if you expect Allen to come out and throw for gross yardage amounts he didn’t reach at the collegiate level. Allen was never a “good” college quarterback, so expecting him to be a good NFL quarterback is a tall order.
So why draft a player who was never a “good” college player at his position? It was a gamble, and the gamble was: could Buffalo develop Allen’s rare physical traits to turn him into a good NFL quarterback? There is much work to be done. Drafting him where Buffalo did creates the expectation for Allen to be a legitimate franchise quarterback. Trading up and parting with assets further heightens those expectations.
In reviewing the All-22 game tape of Allen’s performance against Tennessee, it becomes clear that he needs a lot of work on basic concepts. I’m not breaking out his egregious interception against Green Bay to highlight his flaws, I am going to detail relatively simple reps where more should be expected from Allen.
Allen initially looks to the left: his slot receiver is running a quick out, and his outside receiver is running a go route up the boundary. The boundary corner squats on the out route, which creates space for the outside receiver to work in front of the safety — but Allen doesn’t take the back-shoulder window. He quickly moves on from the first part of his progression, so he never sees that look.
Allen may have been glancing to the left to pull the underneath defenders that way, opening up the Kelvin Benjamin slant behind them. But if this is indeed the case, he’s pretty late to the route, and when he throws it, he fails to account for the sinking underneath defender. The throw is low and batted away.
There were two options available for Allen on this concept, and a perfectly clean pocket to boot. Buffalo got what they wanted, but Allen couldn’t execute.
Buffalo is facing a 2nd-and-long on this play and is trying to cut down the distance to set up a manageable third down. TE No. 85 Charles Clay uncovers quickly across the middle of the field, setting up an easy pitch, catch and run to do just that: set up third and manageable.
Reading the coverage should have made this an easy decision for Allen, but his eyes are fixated elsewhere. Allen is unable to process the coverage and understand where it’s soft, which elongates his decision-making process. As a result, Allen breaks the pocket and bails, leaving Buffalo in third and forever.
There’s no explanation of Allen’s mechanics on this next rep. Buffalo has Kelvin Benjamin isolated with the boundary corner on a comeback route. This should be an easy pitch and catch for an NFL offense. Allen rushes his entire process despite facing no pressure and fails to set his feet or even come close to aligning his shoulders to the target.
On this next rep, Allen finds the right matchup with Kelvin Benjamin coming open on the in route to his right. Allen is a touch late pulling the trigger given the leverage Benjamin establishes and how the route combinations lift the coverage to the middle of the field. The slow trigger is a minor gripe compared to the placement of the throw.
Again with a clean pocket and open receiver, Allen fails to transfer his weight off his back foot which robs the ball of the velocity needed to arrive accurately and on schedule. Allen’s velocity is constantly referenced as a blue-chip strength — and it is — but he robs himself of that ability here.
Reading coverage and understanding where it’s soft in relationship to the route concepts is a real struggle for Allen, and it’s again manifested on this rep. Zay Jones (No. 11) running an in route against Cover 1 over the middle of the field is the obvious read here, especially given the zone drops post-snap. The slightest amount of pressure comes Allen’s way and his eyes drop while he flees the pocket. It is not unreasonable to expect even a rookie quarterback to adjust in the pocket and deliver this throw to Jones; instead, Allen breaks and is sacked.
This was third and medium in the red zone.
Buffalo finding two wins in four starts with Allen is impressive given how severely underdeveloped Allen is. Coach Sean McDermott deserves a ton of credit for squeezing everything he can out of an over-matched roster. Stout, opportunistic defense has led to victories over Tennessee and Minnesota, but the offense must produce for Buffalo to return to the postseason. Just like last year, the AFC is wide open. Despite all of Allen’s struggles, it’s not crazy to talk to playoffs.
Sean McDermott: "To put too much on a young quarterback's shoulders and to say, 'Go out and win the game,' is a bit unrealistic."
— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) October 8, 2018
It sure seems like McDermott understands what his team is and isn’t — but will Josh Allen ever be the reason Buffalo wins games? Nothing we’ve seen from Allen is new, which is discouraging in and of itself. Buffalo knew what it was getting into when they drafted him.
While it’s crystal clear that Allen isn’t “ready” to be starting on Sundays, it’s the best thing for him to be playing. Being exposed to the game action and working through the tape with the Bills’ coaching staff is invaluable. He has to play and be coached through it. Mental reps from the sideline aren’t going to help Allen overcome his shortcomings when the ball is snapped.
Nothing mentioned in this analysis has a thing to do with Allen’s supporting cast — rather, much of it shows how the supporting cast is limited by Allen. Allen is the worst thing about Buffalo’s offense right now, and he has to get better. That said, he deserves time to develop — both things are true.
The highs and lows of Josh Allen won’t just be game to game; they’ll be snap to snap. He has a long way to go, but this is the guy McDermott and GM Brandon Beane believed in to fill Buffalo’s long-standing hole at quarterback. Now it’s up to McDermott and his staff to develop him.