The Buffalo Bills are in position to contend for an AFC East Championship in 2020, and much of the pressure to do so has been placed on quarterback Josh Allen. Allen was the one of five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, along with Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen. While he hasn’t seen success on par with Jackson’s sensational MVP 2019 season, or Mayfield’s impressive 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, he’s certainly shown a lot of promise, even amidst some growing pains.
As he enters the third season of his NFL journey, he finds himself on the best team he’s ever been a part of and has a chance to succeed like never before. In order to reach these heights however, he needs to continue improving on what he’s been building over the early portion of his career.
Josh Allen Must Deliver for the 2020 Buffalo Bills
The knock on Allen coming out of college was his less-than-stellar 56.2 completion percentage during his time at Wyoming. Despite possessing one of the most powerful arms the NFL has ever seen, his accuracy was called into question, and many pundits had their doubts about his ability to become a successful passer at the next level.
Those fears were somewhat validated in his 2018 rookie campaign. Allen completed only 52.8 percent of his passes, tossing 10 touchdowns against 12 interceptions for a 67.9 quarterback rating in his 11 starts. On top of that, his 6.5 passing yards per attempt ranked second-worst among all qualified quarterbacks.
However, he proved to be marvelous running the football, racking up 631 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, while averaging a ridiculous 7.1 yards per carry. In spite of his shortcomings as a passer, it was clear that he had the athletic ability to be a playmaker at the next level, and the raw tools to develop into a special talent.
A Step Forward
In advance of his sophomore season, the Bills did everything they could to help their young signal caller take the next step in his development, signing both John Brown and Cole Beasley in free agency to bolster the receiving corps. These moves seemed to pay off, as Allen improved considerably in his sophomore season, starting all 16 games and throwing for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions, while completing 58.8 percent of his passes.
That number is still fairly unimpressive, but improving his rate of completions by six percent can’t be seen as anything other than a considerable win. While his yards per attempt remained somewhat low at 6.7, he improved his quarterback rating to 85.3 and showed that he was trending in the right direction.
Meanwhile, he remained a significant threat on the ground, running for 510 yards and another nine touchdowns. While his yards per carry was much lower at 4.7, he still ranked third among all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards and first in rushing scores. Combine all this with a 10-6 record, and it’s clear that his game was continuing to trend in the right direction.
A Turning Point
Now, as Allen prepares to enter a pivotal third NFL season, he has the opportunity to build off his recent success. For starters, the Bills were very aggressive in the off-season, trading a plethora of draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs has quietly been one of the better wideouts in the NFL in recent years, and is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. In 2019, his 17.9 yards per receptions ranked fourth among qualifiers and he solidified himself as one of the best downfield threats in the league.
Allen has struggled with the deep ball early in his career, but if he can improve that aspect of his game, the combination of his remarkable arm strength and Diggs’ ability to stretch the field could be something special. Diggs had 16 receptions of 20-plus yards in 2020 (tied for most in the league), so it stands to reason that he should be able to help his new quarterback in this area.
A Chance to Shine
If Allen truly is going to take that next step, now is the time to do it. The Bills secured an AFC Wildcard slot a season ago, but the potential is there to win the AFC East in 2020. The New England Patriots have won the East in 16 of the last 17 seasons, including 11 consecutive division titles, but things could be much different in 2020. The Pats saw numerous key veterans depart in free agency, none more significant than Tom Brady. The team went out and signed Cam Newton and while the former MVP could be sensational when paired with Bill Belichick, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen Newton at full health and playing his best football.
The Miami Dolphins added a lot of talent this off-season but it’s still fair to categorize them as being in the early portion of a total rebuild and the New York Jets don’t appear to be a strong challenger on paper either. That’s not meant as a knock on the Dolphins or Jets at all, but the Bills and Patriots simply look better positioned to win the division at this point.
A Bright Future
If the Bills are going to win the East for the first time since 1995, Josh Allen is going to have to be at his absolute best. While he was a very raw prospect entering the NFL and remains somewhat raw to this day, he’s always possessed all the tools necessary to be a successful pro quarterback. The Bills have assembled a talented supporting cast on offense, boast one of the league’s very best defenses, and Sean McDermott is quickly establishing himself as a quality NFL head coach.
All the pieces are in place for this franchise to compete at a high level for years to come, but it’s all contingent upon the continued development of the team’s would-be franchise quarterback. If Allen can improve to the same extent that he did between his rookie and sophomore campaigns, Bills fans could be about to witness the start of something special.
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