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What does improvement look like for Josh Allen in 2021?

Besides volume metrics with the expanded season

When your QB has an MVP-caliber season it might sound strange to think there’s room for improvement, but let’s do it anyway. In fact, with only three seasons under his belt it’s not that crazy to think Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has a higher ceiling to find. Before we dive in, let’s get one thing out of the way first. We’ll focus on rate stats what with the whole 17-game season “thing” coming into play this year.


Passing Yards

Josh Allen’s 4,544 yards last season were a breath of fresh air for Bills fans. It was also the 63rd best season for an NFL quarterback when it comes to passing yards and about a grand shy of Peyton Manning’s 5,477 yards in 2013. So clearly there’s some room to grow here.

Extrapolated to 17 games, Allen staying pat would lead to 4,824 yards in 2021 (284 yards per game). Manning’s pace was 342 yards per game, a difference of nearly 60 yards. Manning accomplished this averaging 41 tosses per game, roughly five more than Allen. However, for Allen to match, he’d need to either surpass Manning’s attempts per game or increase his...

Yards per attempt. Allen’s 7.9 yards per attempt fell just a bit shy of Manning’s 8.3 in his 2013 campaign. That was a bit of a magical season for Manning, as it represented his second-best ever and better than his 7.6 career average.

Allen doesn’t have to be record-breaking to show improvement of course. There’s plenty of wiggle room between his 2020 season and Manning’s 2013 one. As pass happy as the Bills were, improvement could easily be as simple as putting a little more faith in Allen’s arm.

Touchdowns

Just to be clear, we’re gonna stick to passing touchdowns. I’m not opposed to rushing touchdowns but I don’t see increasing them as “improvement” for a franchise quarterback. (Blast me in the comments if you want.)

Allen’s 37 passing touchdowns ranks 28th in NFL history. That’s 18 behind, you guessed it, Peyton Manning’s 2013 season, which set the NFL record at 55. Allen will need more than a 17th game—which would land him at 39, or tied for 17th best in league history.

Once again, Allen won’t need to break records to show improvement. A few more throws per game might be the best chance at improving overall touchdowns. Why is that? Allen’s 6.5 percent touchdown rate on passing attempts is better than Manning’s or Tom Brady’s career averages. A spike is possible (Patrick Mahomes’s MVP season hit 8.6 percent), but likely not sustainable.

Completion percentage

In completion percentage, Allen’s 69.2 percent rate in 2020 ranks 25th in league history. Drew Brees has the single-season record at 74.4 percent. And the second best at 74.3 percent. And the third at 72.0 percent (also the 7th, 9th, 17th, and tied with Allen at 25).

How close is Allen to this mark? In 2020, he would have needed to complete 30 more passes. Less than two more per game would have broken Drew Brees’s record. Not bad for an inaccurate quarterback.


Summary

Josh Allen’s third season wasn’t one for the record books, but it flirts closer than many of us might have been expecting. There is room for improvement, however. A few extra throws here, a few extra there and Allen will show improvement in some key areas. Let’s also not rule out that records are meant to be broken.

Finally, you might have noticed I didn’t mention anything related to the eye test. Allen tore apart defenses last year, with numerous passes that bordered on miraculous. We already know he’s working on areas he considered a weakness last year. And we’ve seen what happens with a motivated Allen. What will improvement look like in 2021? I think we’ll know it when we see it, and we’re gonna see it soon.