After a rookie season that started forgettably yet featured some flashes late, Josh Allen was noticeably better as a passer in his second year with the Bills, a steady 10-6 season that ended with a playoff berth and wild-card loss to the Houston Texans.
With the fate of the Bills firmly in Allen's hands, let's explore everything about his environment with in Buffalo and what Allen needs to do to take the next step as a quarterback.
How Allen has improved since he was a prospect
These positive developments in a quarterback's game are noteworthy because they indicate the distinct possibility of future growth.
Here's a snippet of what I wrote about Allen before the draft, and my pro comparison for him was Jake Locker/Jay Cutler:
Allen is bigger than both of these quarterbacks and probably has a stronger arm than either of the two. Much of what was being written and said in evaluations of Locker when he was entering the NFL in 2011 is the same as what's being mentioned about Allen now. Locker's magnificent athletic talent was on display often at Washington, and he made some of the best throws at the highest-degree of difficulty in college football while a member of the Huskies. The same is true with Allen while at Wyoming. Then again, Locker had clear-cut accuracy issues. So does Allen. At his absolute best, if his ball placement from clean pockets is fine-tuned in the NFL, Allen can be Cutler-esque, a powerful-armed quarterback with high highs but tendencies to overextend plays, force the football, and get antsy under pressure.
He finished with thein my season-long evaluation of all the plays of first- and second-year quarterbacks (out of 17 who played). Allen had one "D" grade, two "C-" contests, a pair of "A" performances and 10 outings in the "B" range.
After his pro day on March 23, 2018, I wrote the following about the perception of Allen:
It does seem as though we've gotten to the point where Allen has become entirely too polarizing, and the criticism of his game has spiraled out of control.
Against Iowa and Oregon in 2017, Allen tried to do way too much too often to compensate for the large discrepancy in talent between both clubs. He looked undraftable in those contests. The rest of his film -- in games other clubs from the Mountain West and other small-school opponents -- isn't downright brutal. The accuracy issues pop up on occasion, and he wasn't a natural pocket drifter, and did make a few poor decisions. However, Allen did show he was capable of zipping throws with fine ball-placement at all levels of the field in 2017."
Allen did enter the league as one of the more raw but inherently talented quarterbacks we'd seen in quite some time, the latter point being why he still went No. 7 overall in the 2018 draft despite lackluster statistical efficiency in college.
Although I did notice his ability to rip fastballs from clean pockets at Wyoming, he greatly improved his accuracy and consistency at the intermediate level in his second season in Buffalo, seemingly firing a handful of tight-window rockets to receivers in stride each game, a clear area of weaknesses during his rookie year.
The start of Allen's profile in Pro Football Focus' 2020 QB Annual reads, "Allen made strides in key areas, as he graded among the league's best on passes in the 1-to-19 yard range."
Above all, his passing acumen on short and intermediate level passes is easily the biggest improvement made since joining the Bills' organization.
Trapasso joined Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to talk about what young QBs must do to take the next step; give it a listen below and be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.
And now, enter Stefon Diggs, another elite-level separator who's had three seasons above the 8.0 yards-per-target mark and managed phenomenal efficiency in 2019 with a monstrous 12.9 yards-per-target rate, accumulating 1,130 yards on just 94 passes thrown his way.
Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon runs an annual project called Reception Perception, a film-based study that identifies "how often a receiver gets open against the defenders covering him. In it features "success rate," and a success is charted when a receiver "gets open" against the coverage."
The project started in 2014 -- Brown's rookie year -- and recently Harmon tweeted the top 35 seasons in success rate vs. man coverage.
Diggs appears on the the list three times, 8th place from 2017, 17th place in 2018, and 27th place from 2019. Brown also has multiple years on the list -- 20th in 2015 and 31st last year.
The Bills have made it crystal clear -- they want wideouts who can get open for Allen, and they undoubtedly have a trio that can do just that with Diggs, Brown, and underneath weapon Cole Beasley.
In the backfield, Buffalo boasts two young backs in second-year pro Devin Singletary and powerful yet bouncy rookie third-rounder Zack Moss. The compact, ultra-elusive Singletary averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 151 totes last season. According to Pro Football Reference, he averaged 7.6 rush attempts per broken tackle, the fourth-best rate in the league among 47 qualifiers. He's not easy to corral.
Up front, the Bills return their entire offensive line from a year ago, a unit I thought performed admirably most weeks and was rarely brutal or spectacular. While the line's leaky tendencies were fixed from a disastrous group in 2018, there's room improvement in the trenches, as PFF ranked the group 21st-best in the league at season's end.
Buffalo's GM Brandon Beane has done a fine job building around Allen.
Allen has the luxury of playing in the same scheme with the same offensive coordinator -- and same head coach -- he's had his entire NFL career, something even many established veteran passers don't get.
OC Brian Daboll utilizes an Erhardt-Perkins system similar to what's run in New England, and it's truly a hybrid scheme that can look different each week based on the opponent.
Improving his weaknesses
Allen has two key areas in blatant need of improvement in Year 3 -- downfield accuracy and getting overly antsy inside the pocket. Starting with the latter, Allen had 545 drop backs in 2019 and was pressured 36.1% of the time, which equates to 197 pressured drop backs.
Of those plays, according to PFF which charges pressures to quarterbacks if graders see a passer as the main culprit for said pressure, Allen was responsible for 29 pressures himself last season. That means 14.7% of the time he was under duress was his fault, a rather high rate. For perspective, Sam Darnold's rate in this key metric was just 6.8%, but Baker Mayfield's was 16.6%.
Allen has gotten better simply gliding through his reads in the confines of the pocket, but that doesn't mean he's outstanding in that area yet because he was so unpolished in that facet of playing the position as a prospect and rookie. While Allen can't curtail his own play-making ability as a scrambler, he has to more often get rid of it quicker and not run into pressure that isn't really there.
Also, the "hero ball" interceptions, when he throws a floater across his body in a last-ditch effort to make a big play, need to be eliminated from his game. There were two such throws in the home loss to the Patriots and one against the Titans the following week early in the season.
Down the field, Allen had immense problems with ball placement in his second NFL season. Per PFF, he was on target on just 31% of his throws 20-plus yards down the field, considerably lower than the league average of 43%. Yuck.
Strengthening his strengths
Allen was rock solid -- and at times tremendous -- on intermediate passes in his second NFL campaign. Per PFF, his on-target rate from 10-19 yards was 70%, much higher than the league average of 63%.
If he continues to excel in that range, the Bills offense will continue to get better sustaining drives and will be more difficult to defend through the air.
Also, with Allen comes elite physical tools to run with the football. He's scored 17 rushing touchdowns in his first two years as a pro, and while he was bound to regress from the hefty 7.1 yards-per-carry average from his rookie season, he did break five tackles in 2019 compared to just two in 2018 and still averaged 4.7 yards per tote in his second year in the league.
He had 17 runs of 10-plus yards in 2019, third among quarterbacks behind Lamar Jackson (48!) and Kyler Murray (18). Allen's legs are weapons.
Based mostly on the acquisition of Diggs, who's been the league's best contested-catch wideout since 2017 and has 4.45 speed, and the fact that it'd be difficult for Allen to be worse down the field in 2020 than he was in 2019, I believe he'll be a more effective passer on deep balls this upcoming season.
Also too, I don't know if his excellence at the intermediate level from a season ago will be sustainable in Year 3. He's primed to regress to some degree in terms of accuracy in that phase of his game.
But with arguably the most potent receiver trio in the AFC, a decent, gelled-together offensive line, a youthful, slippery running back duo, and the same offensive coordinator he's had for every snap of his NFL career, I expect Allen to take another step forward from his second year in Buffalo.
Just how much he improves will likely determine how strong of a contender the Bills will be in the 2020 season.