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Jerry Sullivan: Bills take a big risk on a big arm

Well, I would have preferred Josh Rosen. He was the best pure passer in the draft, and a bright, outspoken guy who would have been a joy to cover on a regular basis. So for personal and football reasons, he seemed like the best choice.

But the Bills' brass had other ideas on Thursday night. For the first time in franchise history, they drafted a quarterback in the top 10 of an NFL draft, trading up with Tampa Bay from the 12th overall spot to select cannon-armed Josh Allen of Wyoming at No. 7 overall.

The Bills, in fact, were the only NFL team that hadn't drafted a quarterback as high as 13th overall since the 1970 merger. Even if they had stood pat and taken a QB at 12, it would have been the highest they'd ever drafted a player at the game's most vital position. Jim Kelly was the 14th selection of the 1983 draft.

Bills land their quarterback: Josh Allen

Brandon Beane, approaching his first draft as an NFL general manager, said it was a GM's job to get a franchise quarterback. On the 35th anniversary of the Kelly draft, he got one, and he did it without selling the farm and giving up much of the draft currency the Bills had accumulated over the last year.

Not only did Beane get Allen, he held on to the 22nd overall pick, the one the Bills got from the Chiefs last year – and used it moments later to trade up for Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, regarded as the top outside linebacker in the draft, with the 16th pick of the first round.

Bills trade up again, this time for Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds

Drafts are a vessel for hope, and no fan base has a greater capacity for belief than Buffalo's. In the face of persistent failure, Bills fans hope for the best while fearing the worst. Beane has inspired a lot of confidence since succeeding Doug Whaley, and fans had to be impressed with the way he worked this draft.

Of course, this assumes Allen will live up to his billing and become the franchise quarterback the Bills have been seeking since Kelly retired after the 1996 season. If Allen doesn't pan out, it won't matter how deftly Beane worked the draft, and his reputation will suffer for it.

There are certainly reasons to be skeptical about Allen, a raw physical talent who had accuracy issues in college. His biggest critics say he was rarely consistent for an entire game in his career. His career completion percentage was 56.1, and Wyoming wasn't exactly playing an elite college schedule.

Allen is said to be good when he has a clear pocket and no pressure. But when he's pressured, he hasn't been accurate. He's a good runner and can make plays on the move. His arm will instantly be one of the strongest in the NFL. But as AJ McCarron said recently, how often are you asked to throw the ball 70 yards?

"No matter if we selected any quarterback, they all had a knock on them," Beane said. "You have to pick what you're willing to deal with and work with. We think his makeup is going to help him work on his flaws. Part of our job is to accentuate his strengths and work on his fundamentals and so-called weaknesses. I have no doubt he will do that."

Presumably, one of Allen's strengths is his ability to play in the elements in Buffalo. Beane mentioned his big hands. We heard the same thing about EJ Manuel. The weather argument seems overdone to me. A great quarterback, a true franchise guy, can play in any weather. Manuel was big and had huge hands, but he was an inferior player in any weather.

Beane and coach Sean McDermott earned goodwill with fans by snapping the playoff drought. They're under no pressure to build on that 9-7 season and win right away. They're likely to regress, which is why they were reluctant to part with next year's No. 1 pick.

Allen was an unpopular choice with much of the fan base, and he will be highly scrutinized whenever he throws a pass. After reports surfaced Wednesday of his racist and homophobic tweets as a teenager, Allen will also be under the microscope in his personal life.

New Bills quarterback Josh Allen: 'There's not an ounce of hate in my body'

Beane and McDermott said they talked to a lot of people about Allen's character and heard only good things. While word of his tweets was troubling, they're not worried how Allen's tweets will be received by his new teammates.

"Our leadership group, they think a lot of ownership and how we do things around here," McDermott said. "We've spoken with a number of those individuals. We felt that was important in doing our due diligence. We take these things seriously. When this came up, it went to another level. We have spoken to a number of players."

It's impossible to say how Allen will perform in the NFL, and whether he will become a true franchise QB. Beane is banking on that. He and McDermott saw him as a player with the most upside. I suspect they saw parallels to Cam Newton, who took the Panthers to the Super Bowl when they were in Carolina.

But raw prospects don't always develop. We'll never know how hard they tried to move up near the top of the draft for Sam Darnold, or if they tried at all. But this pick will be analyzed for years to come.

I see McDermott's hand in this. Let's not forget, he was fully empowered when the Pegulas hired him before bringing in Beane as GM. They have equal power, but McDermott has a lot of sway. As a defensive guy, he might have been reluctant to pay heavily for the quarterback, which would have prevented him from getting a defensive stud like Edmunds.

Allen was the seventh player picked, and the first who was heavily criticized by the TV analysts. Experts say inaccuracy can be a difficult thing to fix at the NFL level. Tall, big-armed players have flopped before. If it was all about size, Baker Mayfield wouldn't have gone first overall.

Football people love upside, but that doesn't guarantee a player will achieve it. Rosen was the better quarterback at this point. His stock fell partly because some teams felt he was arrogant, too opinionated, a smart rich kid who wouldn't love football enough because of his myriad outside interests.

If being a smart, opininated guy is perceived as a character flaw by NFL personnel guys, the league is in more trouble than we know. Beane didn't want to talk about Rosen's shortcomings; he preferred to highlight Allen's size and his ability to play in bad weather.

"He's Buffalo," Beane said. "He played in a rain game. He played in snow where you could hardly throw the ball. He's played in a lot of weather. He has a big hand He's a big kid, an athlete.

"Listen, we'll see what happens, Beane said. "He's got to earn the right. You draft, you're excited about the upside of talent. But they'll have to earn the right."

The jury is out on Allen. The same goes for the GM, who will be defined by this pick for years to come.

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