It’s a common narrative that as a quarterback progresses in their career, they tend to run less frequently. As the game slows down for them and they begin to see all the coverage concepts they’re ever going to see, their arm becomes a more preferable weapon to their legs. But Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen is on pace to break his previous career high in rushing yards in 2022. Now that we have almost five years of Allen data, can we say that Allen is having the best rushing reason of his career?
Let’s take the two top rushing years by total rushing yards first. In the 2021 regular season, Allen rushed for 763 yards on 71 attempts, good for 6.3 yard per carry. So far in 2022, he’s rushed for 705 yards on 59 attempts, averaging out to 6.5 yards per carry. But even though 2021 was the previous career high for Allen in terms of total rushing yards, most would argue that his rookie season in 2018 was actually his best rushing year — and, as such, should be the one to compare 2022 against.
A few caveats are important to note. The first is that the immediate logical direction one would take to counter the statement that Allen is having his best rushing year in 2022 versus 2018 is that Allen missed games in 2018 as a rookie. And given that, combined with the increase to the number of regular-season games in the NFL season from Allen’s rookie year until now, utilization of raw stats like rushing yards wouldn’t paint the entire picture.
Let’s look into that rookie year. Allen’s 2018 contained only 289 snaps. In this current year, Allen has already taken 311 snaps with more games to play. Ironically, it was a right elbow injury that knocked him out for multiple games during his rookie season. This season, he had a right elbow injury again, but without the missed time. But this means that his 631 yards rushing in 2018 equated to 2.18 rushing yards per snap, while his 2022 ratio is 2.26 rushing yards per snap. Advantage, 2022.
The second thing I’d consider when making the argument that Allen is having a career year rushing the ball is whether Allen is creating more explosive plays with his legs than he ever has. Allen has 23 runs of 10 or more yards so far in 2022. That means on 39% of his runs, he gains enough yards to convert a normal first down. It’s a staggering number, but is shockingly dwarfed by his 2018 number, where 57% of his runs were for 10 or more yards. Advantage, 2018.
Physicality is a big part of Allen’s game. Few quarterbacks in the NFL qualify as players most defenders wouldn’t likely be thrilled about meeting in the open field. As a rookie in 2018, Allen averaged 4.17 yards after contact per attempt. In 2022, that number stands at 3.56. Still an admirable number, and almost identical to his 2019 mark, but a good enough bit off his rookie year number. Advantage, 2018.
The “scramble vs. designed run” conversation naturally comes next. In 2018, 15 of Allen’s 42 rushing attempts came on designed runs (35.7%). In 2022, 38.9% of Allen’s rushing attempts have come on designed runs. Whether we believe scrambles or designed runs are more conducive to rushing success is irrelevant; because has Allen rushed a single time more via designed run in 2018, these marks would be almost identical. Push.
While the straight “rushing yards per snap” number slightly favors 2022 and the raw total will likely favor this year as well, when it’s all said and done, we can look back on 2018 and marvel at the rushing year Allen had as the superior year. His yards per attempt that year (7.1) was a career high, he was the most explosive, and he was the most physical. While Allen is unquestionably a better quarterback now than he was as a rookie, it’s impressive to think that the stellar rushing we see on our televisions and in person in 2022 still isn’t the peak of Allen’s running prowess.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!