During the pre-draft process last spring, I was as hard as anyone on Buffalo Bills rookie QB Josh Allen.
While I recognized his unique size, athleticism and arm talent, I was scared by his lack of accuracy. After all, Allen completed just 56 percent of his throws in his final two seasons at Wyoming. His TD-INT ratio (44:21) was not that great, either, during those two seasons. And the fact remains that no quarterback drafted in the first round over the past 12 years with accuracy numbers as poor as Allen’s has had any success in the NFL.
It also had to be factored in that Allen, who played at Wyoming in the Mountain West Conference, didn't face the toughest competition each week. It wasn’t like he was playing in the SEC. It also was worth noting that when Allen played against competition from tougher conferences, his numbers were horrible.
The Bills saw all the negatives but also looked at the upside — a 6-foot-5, 235-pound passer with speed and arm strength second to none among his draft peers — and ultimately moved up in the first round to draft Allen at No. 7 overall. It was a gamble, but through almost a month of training camp and two preseason games, it appears the Bills' gamble is paying off.
Allen’s improvement in such a short time is close to being remarkable. He has improved in many ways — not just with his accuracy but with his footwork and decision making.
When watching Allen's college film, much of his accuracy problems could be traced to his footwork. Allen’s QB guru, Jordan Palmer, saw this and worked hard with Allen to improve his footwork for his Pro Day in March. The work paid off as Allen showed improved ball placement at his workout. Still,throwing against air is much easier than facing a strong NFL pass rush.
Since the draft, Allen has worked closely with Buffalo's coaches (OC Brian Daboll and QB coach Davis Culley) to continue improving his footwork. From what I have seen in the first two preseason games, he looks like a different player.
In the opening preseason game vs. Carolina, Allen worked with the third unit and played most of the second half. In that game, Allen was only 9-of-19 for 116 yards and a touchdown. While he had some off-target throws, for the most part his ball placement and accuracy was good. In Game Two two on Friday night in Cleveland, Allen played with the Bills' twos and looked much better, completing 9-of-13 for 60 yards and one touchdown.
Allen not only has more accurate, his decision making has also been good. He's showing both patience and poise in the pocket, and is able to go through a progression and get the ball out of his hand quickly. When Allen was at Wyoming, I felt he didn’t handle pressure well. More often than not when he faced strong pressure, he would retreat, roll out and throw. So far with Buffalo, we have seen none of that. He has read the pass rush well and also done a good job keeping his eyes downfield and stepping up in the pocket to make a productive throw. That alone shows growth as a player.
The other little thing that I see in Allen is his command when he is in the huddle. He carries himself well and looks to have strong leadership skills. When he comes off the field, he is quick to talk with coaches and teammates. He doesn’t dwell on a poor play. This is a sign of his maturity, and it’s obvious that Allen will do what it takes to become the best he can be. His football character is strong. He will have some bumps in the road, but from what I have seen, I’m sure he will handle adversity well.
There is a chance that the Bills will name Allen as their opening day starter. In the Cleveland game, one of their veterans, AJ McCarron, suffered a shoulder injury and is out for an undetermined time. The other quarterback is second-year man Nate Peterman, who also has had a very good preseason, completing 17-of-20 throws for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Even though he is only in his second year, Peterman probably gives the Bills the best chance to win early on.
The Bills' opening schedule is tough, with three out of their first four games on the road against Baltimore, Minnesota and Green Bay and a Week 2 home game vs. the Chargers.
The psyche of young quarterbacks can be fragile because of their inexperience. If they don’t have some success early, it can hurt their confidence. Do the Bills want to risk that early on?
In the past two seasons, two quarterbacks taken high in the first round did not start right out of the gate. Last year, Mitch Trubisky waited until Game Five before he got his first start. The year before, Jared Goff waited until the second half of the season before he got his chance in Game Nine. Both were better off because they had to wait. That may be the best-case scenario for Allen. Time will tell.