The Buffalo Bills selected another big-armed pocket passer on Thursday night with Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. Allen joins a club of projects that includes E.J. Manuel and Cardale Jones. Those players came from previous regimes, but the new one has their own motivation for taking a six-foot-five, 235-pound quarterback.
In Allen, Bills general manager Brandon Beane is surely hoping to see a similar impact on his roster to the offensive spark Cam Newton provided when he joined Beane’s Carolina Panthers after the 2011 draft. Allen’s cannon arm, muscle-packed body, and speed on the move are what separated him from the best remaining quarterback, Josh Rosen.
Unlike Newton, though, Allen’s resume is much thinner. Recall that Newton led his junior college to a national championship, then did the same thing in his first (only) season at Auburn. Allen went 16-9 in two seasons as a starter in the Mountain West.
Newton, in his 14-0 championship season, scored 51 touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing) against only seven interceptions. He rushed for 1473 yards in that season while throwing for 2854 yards on 280 attempts. In Allen’s best season, he scored a combined 35 touchdowns (28 passing) while throwing 15 interceptions. He rushed for 523 yards that season while throwing for 3203 yards on 373 attempts. In 2017, Allen’s stats nosedived, as he only threw for 1812 yards and 16 touchdowns on 270 attempts. His junior season was far more reminiscent of a different quarterback from 2011: Washington’s Jake Locker.
This is the issue with Buffalo’s selection. Sure, Allen is capable of some unbelievable highlight reel plays - but mathematically, he looks far, far more likely to underwhelm against his draft stock. If he succeeds, the Bills and the NFL will have outsmarted nearly every tape-watcher and statistical analyst in the process.
The good news with Allen, when you compare him with Manuel, is that he’s far more dynamic as a prospect. Manuel had the spotty accuracy in common with Allen, but was much more hesitant and mechanical as a prospect, while Allen’s chief criticism was that he tried to take too many risks on his plays. Allen will make mistakes as he plays, but he does offer the potential for serious positives when the play breaks down.
First, he needs to learn to trust his teammates. He also needs a stronger supporting cast than he had in Wyoming this year. Honestly, the Buffalo Bills of Thursday night don’t have that supporting cast. They have one of the worst wide receiver groups in the league, and an offensive line that saw three starters exit after 2017.
Luckily, Allen has a veteran ahead of him on the depth chart, giving him time to acclimate to the pro game. Along with that, Brandon Beane was able to hold onto most of his 2018 picks, and all of his 2019 picks, in waiting to select Allen, which gives Buffalo flexibility to build around their franchise quarterback.
Allen is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward prospect in this draft. At his best, he looks like a cross between Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger. He’s tough to bring down in the pocket and fits the ball into miniscule windows. At his worst, he looks undraftable, like a player in over his head. Honestly, Rosen would’ve been far more likely to play through a strong career. Newton came out of the gate and had one of the greatest rookie seasons in history, and I’d be shocked if Allen manages the same. Be prepared for the long haul, Bills fans. It’ll be a while before we find out if Allen is the right one.