They both have the hopes of two long-suffering AFC East franchises resting upon them. Two franchises that have been in the proverbial wilderness at the quarterback position for practically a generation. But fans of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills believe they now have the men that can return their respective team to relevance: Sam Darnold and Josh Allen.
Both are top 10 draft picks with the Jets taking Darnold third and the Bills taking Allen seventh in 2018. The tandem of young signal-callers underwent trials by fire as rookies, making a combined 24 starts. Allen inevitably finished with the better record, going 5-6 compared to Darnold’s 4-9. So they certainly experienced the requisite growing pains associated with becoming a legitimate starting-caliber NFL quarterback.
As year two of their careers approaches, which player is on the better track towards success in the pros? What elements of their games suggest that they can develop into a bona fide franchise quarterback? In this two-part series, we will examine the issue in-depth. First up is Josh Allen.
Why Josh Allen Will Have a Better NFL Career Than Sam Darnold
A Brief Overview of Their Collegiate Background
Few positions in college football carry as much pressure with it as USC quarterback. Quite a few have gone on to enjoy rather lengthy NFL careers, especially recently. Players such as Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, and even current Bills quarterback Matt Barkley come to mind.
You have to also include Darnold in the conversation. As a redshirt freshman, he helped lead the Trojans to the Rose Bowl where they defeated Penn State 52-49 in one of the most exciting games in the prestigious bowl game’s long history. Darnold took a bit of a step back the following season. But it was still good enough to warrant him turning pro which turned out to be a good decision as he eventually became a top-three pick. Despite playing just two collegiate seasons, Darnold is seventh on USC’s career passing yards list.
Allen’s path to the pros was a road less traveled for sure. After receiving virtually no interest from FBS programs out of high school, Allen took the junior college route for a year before Wyoming offered him a scholarship which is where he ultimately committed to.
Much like Darnold, Allen logged two years of starter reps before deciding to forego his remaining eligibility and enter the draft. His best season with the Cowboys came as a redshirt sophomore when he registered 3,203 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions while also adding seven touchdowns on the ground. Allen battled injury a year later so his stats took a bit of a dive but he added a further five rushing touchdowns.
Assessing Their Rookie Year and the Pieces Added During the Off-Season
It was initially the intention of Bills head coach Sean McDermott to have Allen hold a clipboard (or, I guess in this day and age, a tablet) during his rookie season. Then the Bills suffered a disastrous 47-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener, a game characterized by the sheer ineptitude of Nathan Peterman.
And so Allen was thrust into the mixer the following week against the Los Angeles Chargers. His coming-out party came in Week Three when he helped the Bills destroy everyone’s survivor pools with a shocking upset of the Minnesota Vikings. He executed one of the top highlight-reel moves of the year when he leaped over Anthony Barr during a quarterback keeper.
That ability to make plays with his feet defined his debut season in many respects. He ended up leading the Bills in rushing yards which was more an indictment of the running back corps more than anything. As a pure passer, though, he did run into some challenges as evidenced by his 52.8 percent completion percentage which ranked last among qualifying quarterbacks.
But here’s the thing. Allen’s supporting cast was terrible. And Buffalo’s cap situation precluded them from doing much to allay the situation. That’s far from the case now and general manager Brandon Beane did a good job surrounding Allen with proven talent, including Cole Beasley and John Brown, in the off-season. Add in the additions via the draft and Allen is set to realize noticeable improvement during his sophomore campaign.
Over the final six weeks, #Bills Josh Allen averaged 28.6 pts/wk, which would have been 2nd only to Mahomes.
— FlurrySports Fantasy (@FlurrySportsFF) August 11, 2019
Then Jets head coach Todd Bowles gave the keys to the offense to Darnold right off the bat. Let’s just say things got off to a rough start. In the Jets season-opener on Monday Night Football against the Detroit Lions, his first pass resulted in a pick-six the other way. You have to hand it to him for having a short memory as he eventually threw two touchdown passes in what eventually became a resounding 48-17 victory.
In a positive sign for his development, his best performance of the year came in Week 16. Despite losing to the Green Bay Packers 44-38 (not his fault the defense conceded so many points), Darnold threw for 341 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Much like Buffalo, the Jets made it a point to supply Darnold with additional weapons heading into his second season in the league. The biggest of these acquisitions was clearly Le’Veon Bell. Obviously, the biggest question mark with Bell is can he replicate the form NFL fans have become accustomed to after sitting out last year. But there’s no doubting that when he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league.
Also arriving in 2019 is Jamison Crowder who compliments two underrated pass catchers in wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and tight end Chris Herndon. One thing is certain. Both front offices were hard at work trying to make the jobs of their potential franchise quarterbacks easier.
— ESNY Jets Film Room (@jetsfilmroom) August 10, 2019
The Case for Josh Allen From the Standpoint of Future Potential
Though there remains room for traditional pocket passers in today’s NFL, the quarterback position is evolving. You’re increasingly seeing signal-callers able to make plays with their feet when necessary in addition to what is required of them in the overall passing game. Among veterans, players such as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton come to mind. Hey, even Aaron Rodgers has proven immensely capable at moving the chains via quarterback keepers if the situation calls for it.
This is what tilts things in Allen’s favor, assuming he can vastly improve his accuracy. There’s no doubting his arm strength, which is what really wowed talent evaluators at the Combine. But two things are required for him to take the next step in his evolution into the franchise quarterback the Bills have been missing for too long.
First is the aforementioned necessity to become a more accurate passer. Secondly, he must work on his ability to scan the field and cycle through his progressions. There were signs of improvement in the latter category in the preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. If he can realize progress in both those areas, he’ll undoubtedly be well on his way to becoming a household name not just in Western New York, but among NFL fans around the world.