After what they went through to go see him, perhaps it’s fitting that the Buffalo Bills selected Wyoming’s Josh Allen as their next franchise quarterback.
Thousands of hours of scouting went into the team’s research. So, too, did one terrifying plane ride – which General Manager Brandon Beane recently recounted.
“There’s video evidence somewhere, but we were coming in – we flew in private – and we were coming in over the mountains and the plane started just doing like this,” Beane said, with his hand violently shaking. Assistant General Manager “Joe Schoen has video of it, but literally your head was going off the ceiling.”
Team owner “Terry (Pegula) was standing by me – we were watching some video of Josh on our iPads – and we’re going through some plays and progressions and things like that, and literally he is grabbing on to try to get back to his seat and we’re bouncing around.”
During a session with reporters last month, Beane said coach Sean McDermott stayed pretty calm. The same couldn’t be said for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
“Daboll is FaceTiming his wife, and it was like Fred Sanford, ‘I’m coming!' ” the GM joked.
After the plane was safely on the ground, the pilots told Beane and Co. that they had gone through a “mountain wave,” which forms when a strong wind blows across a mountain range.
“So then we Googled mountain wave and saw some bad history of mountain waves,” Beane said. “I think after that we were a little distracted about how we were getting out of there. Like, where do we drive to have the plane meet us?”
The Bills’ brain trust safely got home, returning with what promises to be a decision that will shape the future of the franchise.
“When we left Laramie, we felt really good about Josh,” Beane said.
The process of landing on that conclusion started almost a year ago. Beane and Schoen spent much of last August reviewing the 2016 game film of the draft-eligible quarterbacks. That expanded beyond the four quarterbacks whom most analysts had as first-rounders: Allen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen.
“A lot of quarterbacks because at that point you’re still trying to figure out who has what skill set,” Beane said.
Even on tape, Allen’s arm strength stood out.
“The next step was watching him through the year, and then going to see him play live,” Beane said. “The great thing about seeing a guy play live at quarterback is yes, I can see all the stuff that I can watch on film, but I can see all the stuff in pregame.
“How’s he interacting with his guys? When they’re going through stretch lines, is he patting them on the butt and getting them going? When they go three-and-out two series in a row, what’s he doing? When he comes off, who’s he talking to? Is he talking to one guy? Is he screaming at people? Is he a mute? What’s his leadership like? It’s such an important part of playing that position because we all know you’re going to have those days or weeks when you lose three in a row. How’s he going to respond? Can he handle adversity?”
The next step was meeting with Allen at the Senior Bowl, where McDermott got a chance to see him throw live for the first time.
“We spent like 30 minutes with him … and we really found out how smart he was,” Beane said. “He was nervous. You could see his nervousness the first time he met with us. I didn’t think he was his true self from a personality standpoint. Daboll was killing him with questions, and you saw a guy that was really smart.”
Allen was easily the most polarizing prospect in the draft. Opinions ranged from this – from CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco: “They get the best QB in the draft and they had to go make the move to get him. Love the trade, love the pick” – to this, from Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz: “I would rather have Tyrod Taylor quarterbacking my team over the next four years than Josh Allen.” Heck, a producer for WGR 550 even followed through on a promise to quit if the Bills drafted Allen.
His completion percentage at Wyoming – 56 percent – fueled most of the negative scouting reports. Beane wasn’t scared off, though. As part of the evaluation process, the Bills’ general manager did more than just watch every one of Allen’s throws multiple times. He also asked whether each of the other quarterbacks in the draft could have made them.
“He had no gimme throws,” Beane said. “There’s no, basically like handoffs, the bubbles and all that stuff. It was all a traditional pro style, throwing the ball vertically, and you basically have to do your own stats. How many times did he bail out of there and throw it away?”
As a result, the Bills came up with their own statistics on Allen and the rest of the quarterbacks. On the throws Allen did miss, Beane kept coming back to one thing.
“It was pretty clear it’s when his feet were not right, he said. “The most positive thing I saw, when he was at the Senior Bowl, his feet were in a much better position that week. He was much more accurate, not only during the week, but even in the game.”
The other part of the Senior Bowl that Beane liked was Allen’s competitive nature.
“I know his agents were all wanting him to play a series or two and get out because everyone is fearing injury – and he was like, ‘No, I’m coming back in the second half,’ ” Beane said. “His agent was probably like, ‘Why?’ He came back and led them on two different touchdown drives.”
Allen totaled 158 yards passing on 9 of 13 attempts and touchdown passes of 19 yards and 27 yards, but he was 2 of 5 in the first half for 14 yards and was sacked once.
During the Bills’ private workout of Allen, Daboll had him make 42 different throws, without telling him beforehand what they would be.
“It’s, ‘OK, throw the deep dig now. Five-step, this. Go.’ And he processed it quickly,” Beane said. “Hey, it’s Cover 2 – all that stuff, mental, physical. He didn’t get to practice those throws. Yes, some of them he has done, but he didn’t get to practice every throw that was coming. His footwork was very good, his workout was very good. We left there, we felt very confident.”
Allen has said the Bills were his only private workout.
Just as he did before the draft, Allen has spent this summer refining his footwork with quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer in California.
“He’s going to work at it. He wants it,” Beane said. “He’s probably one of his harshest critics when he misses a throw or misses a read or whatever.”
The Bills’ evaluation of Allen went far beyond just numbers.
“There were games where his stats were bad,” Beane admitted. “Go look at his stats for Colorado State (10 of 20 for 138 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions). But if you watch that game, they’re not winning that game without Josh Allen. He was running the ball. He was their leading rusher, obviously leading passer. … All the things that he brings beyond just standing back and throwing the ball.”
As you would expect, the Bills are completely sold on Allen’s leadership abilities. That was put to the test in a way they didn’t expect, when tweets Allen either sent or retweeted years ago that included racist language surfaced on the night before the draft.
“We think we have all the hay in the barn and ready to go. Then this breaks, and the way Brandon handled it – you guys have gotten to know him – it didn't rattle us,” McDermott said. “It shook us a little bit, but it didn't really rattle us.”
Instead, Beane went to work. He contacted Allen’s agency and said he needed a phone call on the day of the first round.
“Just to hear his version of what exactly happened, give us the timeline of this whole thing,” the GM said. “You could hear the frustration in himself, the embarrassment, all those words. But he never made an excuse. He could have said, ‘Hey, I was 14 or 15.’ He never said it. He just basically explained each situation, kids being kids, or quoting lyrics and stuff like that. I found him very honest.”
The Bills’ evaluation of Allen went all the way up to minutes before the start of the draft. As Allen was about to be interviewed on the red carpet, McDermott silenced the war room as everyone turned their attention to the television.
“We turned it up to listen to his interview because now we could see him and hear him at the same time and see how he was going to handle what he was asked,” the coach said. “He got asked, I believe, by two different interviewers and he handled it just as well as he did over the phone.”
The Bills were sold. Allen would be the pick – and the new face of the franchise.