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Comparing Josh Allen’s 2020 season to recent MVP seasons

How does it stack up?

Lest we forget, Josh Allen’s 2020 season wasn’t just good, it was the best regular-season campaign in Buffalo Bills history. It was good enough to land Allen as the runner-up in the coveted AP MVP award voting. Let’s combine those two facts. The BEST single season in Buffalo Bills history for a quarterback was the MVP runner up.

What the heck more does this guy need to do to get MVP? Sheesh. Well let’s take a look at the last few years and see how Allen stacks up. We’ll butt up his season against that of Aaron Rodgers’s 2020, Lamar Jackson’s 2019, and Patrick Mahomes’s 2018. That’s the guy Allen lost out to for MVP and the two guys Allen will be compared to for the rest of his career.


The usual stats

Are there charts? YOU BETCHA! We’ll start with the usual stats that people think of when they think QBs, mostly focused on volume.

In these statistics, Josh Allen measures up quite favorably. In total touchdowns he’s in third place of the four listed seasons, but well within the “MVP range.” In total yards, Allen had the second best season of the four, easily eclipsing Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers. For interceptions, Allen is again in third place but also again in what appears to be the right range.

When we split by pass vs. rush things get intriguing. Allen falls pretty well between Mahomes and Rodgers, with Allen beating out Rodgers. Jackson isn’t in the same neighborhood as the other three, and had 21 other quarterbacks ahead of him in 2019. When it comes to touchdown throws, Allen and Jackson are pretty comparable (possible foreshadowing). Both are way behind Mahomes and Rodgers. As a pure passer, it’s easy to see how Allen was beat by Rodgers—and Mahomes’s MVP year was something special.

On the flip side, Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb as a pure passer. On the flip side, Jackson’s rushing yards were sixth best—in the league. And he had the highest yards per rush, beating out all the running backs. Even more interesting, going back to passing, Jackson’s touchdown total led the league. Average yardage, elite passing touchdowns AND basically an elite running back in the same player and Jackson’s MVP season seems easily explainable as well.

Rate stats

As foreshadowed above, despite Allen having way more yards than Jackson, there was very little difference in touchdown throws. That means even as a pure passer, Jackson was more efficient when it came to scoring output, creating an argument that Jackson’s 2019 MVP run was better in some ways than Allen’s 2020 season. Let’s check in on some rate stats to see what else shakes out.

For yards per attempt, only Mahomes stands out. Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Lamar Jackson all had similar seasons. All four quarterbacks were efficient moving the ball.

Touchdown percentage is our only metric where Allen doesn’t seem to fit in with the group. Despite high volume in passing yards, Allen was by far the least efficient of the four when it came to throwing touchdowns. I’ll let you peruse interception rates and sack rates, and leave it that Allen is within the “MVP range” for these categories.

Completion percentage is where the fun is for Allen, who was a close second to Rodgers. The two columns to the right are courtesy of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats page. Expected completion percentage is one of my favorite additions. Essentially, the NFL charts every throw and calculates a “completion probability.” This is defined as

“The probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more.”

From there, they calculate what percentage of throws the average quarterback would complete. The next column you likely guessed. How much difference was there between the expected and actual? Allen is again compared best to Rodgers. Both players completed passes at a much better rate than the NFL says they should have.


Conclusion

For most metrics, Josh Allen was within the range of an MVP-worthy season. If Aaron Rodgers didn’t have the best season of his storied career Allen would have likely won it. Adding more hope to a potential MVP year, Lamar Jackson suggests strongly that sometimes the right place at the right time is important. Jackson further suggests that value beyond passing the ball is fair game. So while the best season in Buffalo Bills history wasn’t an MVP one, it certainly belongs in the conversation.