The question that Bills fans were all wondering when he was selected with the 7th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft was: Will Josh Allen’s physical traits make him a great NFL quarterback? Now that Josh Allen is entering his 3rd pro season, and has 29 career starts under his belt, we have all the information we need to answer this question.
Coming out of college, Allen was the most polarizing QB prospect because of his physical tools that he possessed. While he had the ability to throw the ball 80 yards with the flick of his wrist, there were still NFL scouts who were concerned about his accuracy and his inability to pass with any variation other than a fastball.
Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane was sold on Allen from the beginning, “Everything about him screamed leadership. I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t love Josh on and off the field.” While there were many questions about how good Josh Allen could be, there was never a question about his potential. Brandon Beane took a chance on a guy with all the potential in the world, and now it was time to see Allen grow.
I recently did a film study of Josh Allen’s first and second seasons in the NFL, and I learned that there were some major differences in years one and two. In year one, Allen mainly used his athletic ability to wow fans, but he never looked the part of a reliable quarterback. Allen struggled mightily to read blitzes, keep his eyes downfield when scrambling, and to deliver in clutch situations.
Allen’s rookie year was filled with flashes of potential such as his hurdle over Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr in his third career start, something his teammate Zay Jones said was “the greatest play I’ve ever witnessed in person”. Despite having these All-Pro moments, his rookie season was also filled with major inconsistency.
In order to become a reliable quarterback in the NFL, Allen had to limit his turnovers, vastly improve his accuracy, and become more efficient at converting on third downs/red-zone opportunities.
In year two, he made major strides in categories all across the board, and more importantly, he led his team to the playoffs. Allen understood his inability to throw passes with much variation, so he emphasized that in the off-season. His goal that off-season was to improve the way he shaped throws from 12-22 yards past the line of scrimmage, and it paid major dividends during the season.
His total completion percentage jumped from 52.8% to 58.8% while making throws that even he didn’t think were possible. A huge contribution to his improved completion percentage was his changed mindset going into year two.
The Bills began shaping into a run-heavy team with a Top-5 defense, so Allen knew that he had to become more of a game manager. Along with this changed mindset came a decrease in his deep-ball efficiency as he tried to “not be the hero every play” and instead take the safer option.
Although Allen became a much smarter quarterback with his situational awareness, and ball security (only 9 interceptions), he was still inconsistent with his accuracy. Allen’s inaccuracy was on full display as he routinely missed shallow crossing routes (0-5 yards) and regularly overthrew receivers in the middle portion of the field.
Another issue that surfaced from his film was his inability to throw his receivers open meaning he was able to complete a pass if there was an open window, but nothing more. Time-and-time again he would wow me with a tight-window throw, or 20 yard throw on the run, but he failed to do it with any consistency.
The biggest takeaway I got from his second season was that Allen will always have his athletic tools to fall back on, but his kryptonite will be his ball-placement on simple throws.
With Allen now entering his third pro season, he has a chance to become a top 15 quarterback in the league with major improvements. The Bills as a whole are already primed for improvement with a returning Top-5 defense, and added star receiver Stefon Diggs to a receiving group that had the most drops in the NFL in 2019. For the Bills to win their first AFC East title since 1995, Allen has to continue to protect the football and let his defense/run game do the dirty work.
The third year of a quarterback’s NFL career is typically the one in which we see the most improvement, so here’s what to expect in 2021. Josh Allen will continue to improve the variation of throws in his arsenal, he will continue to be a major threat with his legs, and his accuracy percentage will cross 60%.
While these may seem like great improvements, they’re just what’s expecting from gaining more experience in the NFL. If Josh Allen is going to take the jump from average to stardom, he will become a reliable passer on the easy throws, he will protect the ball (less than 15 turnovers), and he will return to threatening defenses with accurate 30+ yard passes.
While there are some people saying that Allen is a far more accurate quarterback than I’m giving him credit for, I’m going to give you a perfect analogy. Josh Allen is almost in an identical spot to 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, as he has a dominant defense and a great run game.
While they’re both asked to be game managers, and they both can stretch the field when needed, one is far more accurate than the other. Jimmy Garoppolo had 13.7% of his total throws as “bad” throws, while Josh Allen had 20.3%. Josh Allen is capable of leading a team to the playoffs, as we saw in 2019, but he has to become a more reliable quarterback.
While this article may be drawing to its conclusion, Josh Allen’s career is surely not, and it remains to be seen what his conclusion will look like. His ceiling as an NFL quarterback is a fringe Top-10 quarterback because he will continue to be plagued with accuracy issues in some capacity for the rest of his career.
Although he may deal with being eternally stuck with accuracy issues, he will always be able to fall back on his athleticism to separate him from other quarterbacks in the league. Josh Allen is only 23 years old, and is in a perfect environment to sustain a lengthy NFL career, but at some point his team will have to trust his arm to consistently provide for them.
So let’s pose the question one more time, how great can Josh Allen be? The greatest Josh Allen can be is the fearless leader of a football team that relies on their defense and running game to win. Allen brings a different dynamic to any offense with his pure arm strength and rushing ability, but he will be hindered with the lack of reliable accuracy for the rest of his career.
Have any questions or comments for me? You can reach me on twitter @danielalameda11