The Buffalo Bills have done a whole heck of a lot to reshape their roster this offseason with the hope it will pay big dividends. Enough offensive linemen for several teams, a new-look receiver room, and a potential monster to man the middle of the defense all have us dreaming big. Deep down, though, everyone knows that the Bills’ fortunes hinge on Josh Allen.
Flashes of potential and some big-time throws are nice, but the overall statistical output was not great by any means. Buffalo will need him to make a leap, so we’ll try to make a reasonable projection of what we can expect.
This project looks to predict growth in five key areas: Yards/Game, Yards/Attempt, Completion Percentage, Interception Percentage, and Touchdown Percentage. These five were selected as a result of who we looked to compare Josh Allen to.
To make the projection, data was gathered for quarterbacks who had 50 or more regular-season passing attempts in their first two seasons. This was done league wide over a span of ten years, with quarterbacks drafted from 2008 to 2017. Because many of these quarterbacks did not start at the beginning of their first year (like Josh Allen) or were spot players, a greater emphasis was placed on rate-based stats. Volume-based data would be drastically different between John Skelton and Andrew Luck, for example.
For the five measures, the difference between year one and two was calculated for every quarterback (37 in total). An average change was calculated as well as the standard deviation for each to come up with a range of “normal change” for each metric. With all that said, it’s time for some charts.
This format will be used for each of the metrics. Josh Allen’s first year is followed by the three “likely” outcomes. The “projection ave” is the perfect mean-average-change for the quarterback data set added to Josh Allen’s first year. The “projection min” and “max” are the limits of the normal range (one standard deviation from the mean). For fun I’ve also added the best-case scenario. Because of the varying circumstances in how each quarterback found their way to the field, this is an incredibly volatile data set.
Allen’s year one was pretty dismal as the 32nd-ranked quarterback in this measure. If he has a pretty ordinary increase, Allen will hit 191 yards per game or so, which would be a disappointment for sure. A regression isn’t out of the question, either. For the optimists, it wouldn’t be a major shocker for him to reach the 230 yards-per-game range. This would have been good for 25th in the league last year, but quarterbacks have been successful with this output.
For our best case scenario, John Skelton was able to increase his completion percentage and yards per attempt significantly. These efficiency tweaks seemed to have paid off by increasing his per-game yardage by nearly 110 yards per game. This increase for Allen would put him just shy of 300 yards per game, which would be near the top of the league. The closest realistic parallel is Blake Bortles, who increased his yardage per game by nearly 70 yards.
Yards per attempt should help factor out some of the wackiness that occurred above thanks to drastically different playing times. Allen’s debut of 6.5 yards per attempt was tied for 31st in the league.
Average change in the ten-year span was a very slight uptick. However, we again see high variability. Regression could get ugly quick, but progression within even the normal range would have Josh Allen reach 7.8 yards per attempt, which would most likely be flirting with the top ten.
The best case scenario is that changes in the team lead to a Jared Goff-like change of 2.7 yards per attempt. Goff improved from a hideous 5.3 yards per attempt to a more than healthy 8.0 Y/A. While that same change would put Allen at 9.2, that’s not out of the question. Goff was actually tied with Nick Foles for the largest increase in this stat during the ten-year span. Foles’s first year of 6.4 led to 9.1 in his second year. If Allen were to reach that high he’d almost certainly be top three.
No statistic is used more frequently to disparage Josh Allen than completion percentage. His 52.8% was dead last in the league. Regression would make him dead last-ier. Perfectly average change would lead him to 54.2%, which probably would keep him dead last.
A top-end “normal” improvement leads to 58.7%. While not dead last, it would have been close in 2018. The best case scenario comes courtesy of Christian Ponder—who started at 54% and improved in his second year by 7.8%. There’s room to hope here, too, as five of the quarterbacks in the decade of data had improvement of 7% or higher. Another four quarterbacks improved by 6% or more. Unfortunately, though, to get to league average Allen would need to jump about 13%, which is nearly twice what any quarterback was capable of doing between year one and year two.
No one will care about completion percentage or yardage if the team is piling on points. One way Josh Allen can help that is to increase his touchdown percentage. This measure is simply the percent of passes a quarterback throws that go for a touchdown. In his first year, Allen threw a touchdown 3.1% of the time or about one every 32 passes. This had him tied for 30th.
Average improvement would put him at 4.0%, which should be striking distance from league average. A jump to 6.2% would still classify as “normal” but place Allen in the top ten in all likelihood.
Nick Foles provides the best-case scenario. His jump of 6.2% is in large part thanks to a dreadful year one at 2.3%. Carson Wentz also provides hope of major improvement going from 2.6% to 7.5%.
This one is last because it’s the only stat where less is more. Josh Allen was second worst in the league in 2018 with his 3.8% rate. And note that these are all for qualifying quarterbacks. A certain someone had over twice the interception rate as Josh Allen. His name rhymes with “Skate Skeeterman” if you’re curious.
Regression would clearly be bad. On average, quarterbacks improved nearly half a percent. If Allen were to do that he’d still fare pretty poorly. We have another stat with a wide range of “normal change” though. There’s no reason to suggest Allen couldn’t improve all the way to 1.7% for interceptions. That should be right on the edge of top ten.
For our “best case” scenario, two quarterbacks improved by over 4%, which would be impossible for Allen to improve by. So theoretically, the best case is that he throws zero interceptions—but that’s not incredibly likely.
Right off the bat, here’s the good news: In all five metrics, at least 21 quarterbacks out of the sample of 37 improved in year two. For yards per game, 24 quarterbacks improved and for touchdown percentage 26 did. It’s more likely than not Josh Allen won’t regress. So while the “projected min” columns were included to show a normal range of change, it’s not realistic to expect that out of Allen.
If Allen were to improve the average amount he’d have a pretty disappointing season, likely eliciting some cries to replace him in year three. Fans will be looking for a larger-than-average leap from Allen, with most measures toward the “projection-max” or “best-case” values.
How likely is it that Allen will reach those heights? Well the “best-case” names are included for a reason. Many of the quarterbacks with the largest leaps were all ones who had a team prepared to invest in them. Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Jared Goff, and yes Blake Bortles all saw big gains. Each of these quarterbacks had a team willing to bet on their guy, and several saw major team changes cater to the quarterback. If nothing else, it’s very clear that the Buffalo Bills have gone out of their way to prop up Josh Allen this season. If there’s something to this Josh Allen fella, it’s perfectly reasonable to think he’ll make a sizable jump in 2019.