This is the first in a series analyzing the Buffalo Bills' most significant questions entering the offseason. Part 1: What's next in Josh Allen's development?
If you listen to Geoff Schwartz, it’s pretty much over before barely having the chance to begin.
The former NFL offensive lineman and current analyst of the league doesn’t see any hard facts to support Josh Allen having the kind of success the Buffalo Bills and their fans were counting on when the team made him the seventh overall pick of last April’s NFL draft.
“We’ve seen 60 percent (completion rate) is about the cut off to being successful in the NFL, and my idea of being successful is can you lead your team to the Super Bowl?” said Schwartz, who does work for various media outlets, including SiriusXM NFL Radio. “As a college quarterback, if you don't complete either 60 percent of your passes for your entire career or in your senior season or both, you can’t get to 60 percent.”
Allen’s accuracy issues at Wyoming, where he completed 56 percent of his throws, are well-documented. In 12 games as a rookie, including 11 starts, he connected on 52.8 percent.
Other outside opinions on where Allen’s game is headed are far more hopeful, although they include a degree of caution.
“I think he surprised me and I'm sure a lot of other people, including defensive coordinators, with his ability to run the ball for big, big plays,” former NFL quarterback and current CBS NFL game analyst Rich Gannon said. “The kid’s got the swagger to him, which I like, too. I think the players respect him and I think they feel like they've got a quarterback that they could build around. Now it’s just a question of, how much improvement can he make from Year One to Year Two? Typically, this is where we see a big jump with quarterbacks.
“He’s got to spend a lot of time in and around the building. Obviously, ball security, decision-making, all those things are things that he's got to get better at.”
Phil Simms, another former NFL quarterback and a current studio analyst for CBS, has been consistently supportive of Allen since before the draft. That remains the case.
“I think I would consider it a very successful first season for a rookie quarterback on a team making a transition, with many things to be excited about,” Simms said. “The personality and the vibe I see on the field. Of course, the running is terrific, but a little bit out of control and I think he will learn that lesson. In this league now, it's so important for the quarterback just to stay on the field for his football team, for continuity and all that. But I said to Boomer Esiason on the show this past week that Josh Allen is must-watch TV. I said, ‘Even his incompletions are exciting.’ ”
The following is a collection of thoughts, from outside and inside the Bills on the next steps in Allen’s development:
Simms: “The New England Patriots played the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and they played one defensive lineman and stood everybody else up. Now why did they do that? Because they said, ‘OK, let's make him throw the ball to beat us because we’ve really got a very good defensive secondary so let's play to the strength of our team on the defensive side.’ His running will always be part of what he does and it adds to everything else. He’ll become a more patient thrower of the ball and a more patient decision-maker in Year Two. But he's still going to run because when you're a drop-back quarterback and you can take off like he does, straight ahead and all that, that's going to be there forever for him. In 10 years, he's still going to be fast enough and nimble enough to still take off and run and get 20. That's pretty unique in this league.”
Gannon: “Here’s what he has to understand: they're not paying him to be a running back. And I say that from a perspective that I would never, ever discourage him from pulling the ball down and running and making a play. There’s not a lot of Philip Riverses left that are just pure pocket passers. You’ve got to be able to move around if you want to play a long time in this league. You’ve got to be able to run for a first down every week. But at the same time, I don't know if I want my quarterback leading the team in rushing moving forward. If he does, he's going to have some surgeries along the way. What I would do is go back and cut up all his hits from last year. Not just the sacks, but the hits. Hits outside the pocket, hits outside the numbers, hits on the boundary. I’d talk to him about the sense of urgency when you get outside the numbers and you’ve got to get what you can, get out of bounds and not let some guy roll up on your legs and hit you from behind. I’d have conversations with him about sliding; we can work on the slide drill.”
Bills backup quarterback Matt Barkley: “I think everyone knows he can run and it's just a matter of now, moving forward, knowing that teams know that and knowing that they're going to game plan against that, kind of like what New England did, kind of what the Jets did the second time around. And then just knowing your answers after that, whether that's in the passing game, knowing your check-downs, or knowing that they're gonna have a spy on you or you have to get the running and going. Just different things, as Josh progresses, he’ll come to see the bigger game, which is the chess match and how they're going to play him moving forward. Because he can run and he can make guys miss, but it's a matter now of being a step ahead.”
Simms: “He can be a little more judicial when you’re taking shots down the field. As I’ve told my kids and other young quarterbacks, ‘Learn to love a two-yard completion because a lot of them turn into 10s and 12s, and then sometimes they even score touchdowns.’ And that is a big part of the game in the NFL. You pick, pick, pick, and then you take a chunk.”
Gannon: “When I look at Josh, I just think of his ability to function better as a pocket passer, the in-rhythm throws. The off-schedule stuff, he does really well. But for me, if I’m coaching him, I’d say, ‘Look, we’re going to work on the footwork in the pocket. We’re going to continue to work on anticipation and accuracy, continue to study the protections.’ ”
Gannon: “If you're thinking (before the snap), you're a couple steps behind. When they call a play to Tom Brady, he's heard it, he’s repped it thousands of times, so he’s three or four steps ahead of the process. Whereas Josh, he doesn’t have the reps, the history in the system. And he doesn’t know all the adjustments. If you haven't done it, then you're thinking and you're reading and you're reacting. That's what you’re talking about in terms of the game slowing down – his ability to be able to play faster from under center, his ability to be able to change protections and change plays and for him to be able to go to (offensive coordinator Brian) Daboll and say, ‘Hey, look, in Week 2 we got this … ’ It’s their ability to be able to make changes on the sidelines, because you want to focus on plays and concepts the quarterback has a history with, that he likes.
“I think his ability to have the game slow down (is going to be critical), his ability to see things clearer, quicker; his the ability to understand the protections better, understanding defenses better, how defenses are trying to attack you. Who are the most efficient third-down quarterbacks in football? It’s never the rookies. Because that's where the game really gets complicated for young quarterbacks.”
Simms: “(The offense) might have been complex to Josh Allen this year. When he comes back next year, it's sort of like on being a freshman in high school where you're scared of the teachers and all the people in the school and then when you’re a senior, you walk around, you’re the man. That’s what that second year is for a quarterback. I would not even think or worry about, ‘Will be able to handle the complexity of a pro offense?’ ”
Bills backup quarterback Derek Anderson: “He's made great strides over the last month and a half, really since he came back (from a sprained elbow that sidelined him for four weeks earlier in the season). Definitely, big-time growth. I think he did a good job protecting the ball for the most part. We’ve got a ways to go as a whole unit, but I feel like he’s done a lot of good things. He’s progressed, he’s putting the time in during the week and it shows on Sunday.”
Barkley: “From the time I've been here, which isn’t the whole season, I've still been able to see growth just in how he's seeing defenses and taking answers, not always trying to force things. So I’m excited for the offseason for him to keep getting better.”
Schwartz: “Even (Carolina’s) Cam Newton, who is considered inaccurate in the NFL (with a career completion percentage of 59.7), at Auburn completed 66 percent of his passes and he won the Heisman. So you look at a guy like Josh Allen and yeah, sure he has all the tools you’d ever want in a quarterback. But he completed 56 percent of his passes at Wyoming. And this whole drop-rate thing, he didn’t have as many drops as (Baltimore’s) Lamar Jackson did, as (the New York Jets’) Sam Darnold did, as (Arizona’s) Josh Rosen did. So to me, right there in my opinion, there's no historical backing for him to be successful in the NFL.
“I know people will say I’m unfairly putting him in a box. Yeah, I am because he’s not showing the work, so I'm not going to go out on a limb and say he's going to make it when there's nothing to back up he's going to make it. Because, typically, your completion percentage for the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, it does go up a little bit, like with a Drew Brees. But he’s also a Hall of Fame level talent. Most of the time, it comes down a little bit when you get in NFL. So, just historically speaking, there's nothing to show that Josh Allen will be a successful quarterback in the NFL.
“Sam Darnold, for example, he had a stretch between Week 11 and I think Week 16 where he was the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL. There’s nothing (like that) for Josh Allen. People say to me, ‘Well, he throws the ball deep.’ He is one of the least successful quarterbacks in the NFL doing that, as far as on-target passes over 15 yards. Of the 38 qualified quarterbacks who attempted over 25 passes over 15 yards, (Allen) was like 33rd, 34th, 35th. So he’s not even doing the things well that Bills fans think he’s doing well.”