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Josh Allen’s Rookie Year, Revisited

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The NFL was a very different place in April 2018. Buffalo just broke their 18-year playoff drought thanks to Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton. An emerging (diva) superstar WR just pulled off the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’, sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. And the city of Philadelphia was in ruins after Nick Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. Things seemed to be changing for the better, when the Bills, unsurprisingly, made the wrong pick again. They wasted their first-rounder on Josh Allen, a parody of an NFL Quarterback; a boneheaded move with NFL legend and “complete package” Josh Rosen still on the board. The Bills went down in flames, as yet another QB failed to meet expectations and bottomed out in Buffalo.

Wait a moment, I think I got my paperwork mixed up.

That happens in a different timeline.

Let’s try again, shall we?

It’s April 2018, and everything is going exactly as described, minus one hiccup. The Buffalo Bills trade their 12th overall pick and two second-rounders (#53 and #56) to Tampa Bay for the seventh overall pick. With that pick, they select a young stud out of Wyoming by the name of Josh Allen. His arm strength and mobility are prototypical for an early first round Quarterback. Despite some accuracy concerns, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane feel confident they found their guy; a player with huge upside and all the tools he needs to develop into one of the best QBs in the NFL.

You see, public consensus had been against Josh from Day One. Every narrative from the second he declared for the draft was negative, for just about any reason that you could think of. Professional draft analysts threw words around that you would expect to hear from pundits and click-baiters. They ranked Allen QB4 in his draft class at best, and never let off the hook for having a fraction of the college snaps that his competition had. In watching him during his rookie season, however, a good number of Bills fans saw what I saw; a young, inexperienced prospect who could do it all if he just put the pieces together.

For Allen’s first two seasons, Bills Mafia endured unrelenting harassment from every other fan base in the league over our QB play. In fact, even after his breakout 2020 season, we’re still getting it. But they didn’t see what we had back then because no one else bothered to look. And if they don’t see it now it’s because they refuse to.

That’s the purpose of this article, dear reader; to show you that we weren’t hallucinating, and Josh Allen really did give us so much reason to hope. To “Billieve”. So buckle in, and prepare for a trip back through time to a team that’s nigh-unrecognizable. To see some plays that you’ll never want to forget.

Preseason – Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns

The moment Josh took the field, he went deep, putting the ball right in the basket of legendary WR Robert Foster. It may have been just out of bounds, but that shot was the first real throw we ever saw from our boy in Bills blue. He showed flashes of poise in the pocket. And, with pressure getting to him regularly, his escapability was in full effect. He threw on the run and makde plays with his arms and legs after the pocket collapsed. These games were explicit examples of ‘The Josh Allen Experience”. And it would remain that way until he got some actual help around him.

Week One – Baltimore Ravens

We all remember Nathan Peterman. He’s partially to blame for Allen getting thrown right into the frying pan in his first ever NFL game. Brought in at the 3rd quarter down 40-0 against Baltimore, Allen never stood a chance at making this comeback happen. It was a rough outing as Allen played his first true NFL snaps. The aim of this move was never to win, but to see if Josh Allen was ready to shine. He wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t consistently hit his targets, many of which were dropped. This was another week of practice.

Week Two – Los Angeles Chargers

As expected with a raw rookie prospect, his first career start (with few competitive teammates) meant that he had a lot of growing to do. I won’t lie, this wasn’t a great game by Allen overall. But he consistently fits the ball into tight windows and shows poise in the pocket (when he actually has one), manipulating it well. The biggest issue with his play early in his career wasn’t that he couldn’t do what he needed to. It was that he couldn’t do it consistently.

Week Three – Minnesota Vikings

There is no doubt in my mind that you all recall this one. Everyone remembers where they were when the Buffalo Bills walked into U.S. Bank Stadium as 16.5-point underdogs and blew out the Vikings for Josh Allen’s first career win. He displayed both caution and precision, as well as some of the best of his trademarked life-on-the-line, do-or-die play style. Whether he was throwing the ball directly into the arms of Receivers or throwing his body at the pylons or over Linebackers, this is considered the first time a lot of Bills fans started to ‘Billieve’ in Josh.

Week Four – Green Bay Packers

This one was a game to forget. The pride often comes before the fall, and coming off the high of the week before left many fans crushed. Josh was rattled early and frequently in this game and couldn’t shake it. However, he had a few moments of goodness, if not greatness.

Week Five – Tennessee Titans

Josh was far from the guy to carry an offense back then, but he regularly made plays that quality NFL QBs are expected to make. For instance, he continued to fit the ball into tight windows and put it right on the numbers when given time to throw. He also made plays out of thin air, coordinating the passing game whilst on the run to make miracles happen. Things he was attacked and belittled for early in his career are now reasons he earns praise.

Week Six – Houston Texans

Josh Allen was good enough to win this game, despite two first-half special teams turnovers putting Buffalo in the hole. An absolute mess of a game outside of QB play was worsened when Whitney Mercilus laid a late hit under Allen’s throwing arm. Unfortunately, that hit would take him out of the game. Bills fans got a healthy second helping of Peterman, and the search for a new backup QB began in earnest.

Injury Period

At this point, Josh Allen finally had some of his own pro tape to work with, and spent a great deal of his rehab time in the film room with his coaches. Most importantly, they highlighted flaws in his game and laid out plans of action for his growth. When he came back after his six week absence, he was ready for the challenges to come.

Week Twelve – Jacksonville Jaguars

After his injury, Josh was ready to take the field again. Subsequently, he looked like a whole new QB. The Bills were all but eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-7 record going into this game. Therefore, the focus of the franchise shifted. Josh Allen how shown flashes of what he could do, and had a large enough sample size of tape to learn from his mistakes. His signature work ethic was on display for all to see, and he began to improve his game.

Week Thirteen – Miami Dolphins

This game was an excellent example of Josh Allen being a true dual-threat QB. He dominated the Dolphins on land and by air, but unfortunately he couldn’t catch the ball as well. His unbelievable last-second effort get the throw off on fourth down for a game-winning TD was dropped in the end zone by then-TE1 Charles Clay. Consequently, it was in this moment that everyone realized how terrible that year’s team really was. If a Quarterback can do all this work and get that ball where it needed to be and the play still didn’t succeed, he needed help.

Week Fourteen – New York Jets

This game was a mess, but Josh had already shown continued improvement in areas he’d needed to focus on. As a result, the team gained confidence in their ability to win the next season. Firstly, his footwork was improving, and short/intermediate accuracy was becoming less of an issue as he buckled down his mechanics. Secondly, his throwing motion was less erratic, and he threw a tighter spiral. Turnovers were still a big issue, but they too would be worked on in time.

Week Fifteen – Detroit Lions

If the previous game was a mess, this was a catastrophe. From poor conditions to general ineptitude on both sides of the field, Allen still made plays happen. There were a lot of broken plays, as he’s now famous for, and a ton of throws on the run/under pressure as Allen continued to learn on the fly. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the luxury of backing up a mediocre veteran and learning from day one. Nor did he have a surplus of talent around him.

Week Sixteen – New England Patriots

Officially, the pipe dream of making the postseason was already gone, and a Bills team with nothing to play for opted to surrender. Therefore, they called plays which gave Allen practice in areas of weakness and plenty of offseason film to study. He was still a long way from greatness and would need to keep working to get there.

Week Seventeen – Miami Dolphins

On this day, he showed he was a bad man. This game was, potentially, the most complete game of the season for Allen. His season-ending performance felt like an encore of a show we’d been dying to see. He was throwing men open, improvising on the run, and making plays with his legs, rushing for 95 yards and two TDs. Josh Allen proved he was a mobile threat, but his three passing TDs in a rout were every bit as important. He proved he could do it all and had a long offseason ahead to think about how to improve further.

Conclusion

In a rookie season that was exactly as successful as we could have realistically expected, Josh found ways to wow us. From his noted “big arm” to his athleticism and escapability, there was never a dull moment when Allen was on the field. He brought hope to the Bills for the first time in a long time. We know the story since then and we know who leads our team now. But, at a time when the best thing to happen in 20 years was the end of the drought, we needed something more than another mediocre season. Josh proved he could deliver that.

Now, there’s only one thing that remains to be seen. Can he lead us to a Super Bowl? Can he win it? You may have heard a lot of differing opinions on this one but, considering the story so far, you should be hard-pressed to bet against this kid from Wyoming.

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