Josh Allen was in need of a breakout year, not only for himself but for the sake of the Buffalo Bills. His two nondescript seasons as an NFL quarterback left the organization unsure whether he was the guy to keep the once-struggling team moving forward.
The good news was that help appeared to be on the way in the form of one of the deepest drafts in memory for wide receivers. The better news was that general manager Brandon Beane resisted the obvious and saw the bigger picture. Beane went in a different direction, and Allen made it pay off.
Josh Allen produced like never before
The Buffalo Bills could not have asked for more from Josh Allen than what their third-year quarterback out of Wyoming gave them during the regular season. After completing a modest 56.3% of his passes with 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in his first two seasons, Allen took a significant leap forward this fall.
Appearing in all 16 regular-season games, Allen completed 69.2% of his attempts and booked 37 TDs to just 10 interceptions. He then led the Bills to playoff wins against the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens, picking up three more TDs and no interceptions in 72 throws.
And the other half of Allen’s game showed no falloff. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound bulldozer rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns, giving him 25 scores on the ground in 44 NFL games.
The impressive body of work earned Allen his first Pro Bowl designation and a place on the All-Pro second team. It was also essential in getting Buffalo to the AFC championship game against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
So many receivers to choose from
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Josh Allen had an embarrassment of riches to pick from in distributing the ball this season. He logged 127 completions to Stefon Diggs and 82 to fellow wideout Cole Beasley. John Brown, Isaiah McKenzie, and Gabriel Davis combined for 98 more catches. It added up to 4,544 yards for Allen.
Receivers had been a weak spot for the Bills prior to Brown and Beasley arriving as free agents in 2019 from the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. Still, they needed one more guy who would keep defensive coordinators up at night, and the answer was waiting in the 2020 NFL draft.
The first round of that draft produced six receivers and the second round brought seven more. Among them were Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings, 88 catches), Cee Dee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys, 74), Tee Higgins (Cincinnati Bengals, 67), and Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh Steelers, 62). Five other rookie picks finished with 40 or more receptions.
And the Buffalo Bills were wise enough to ignore them all.
The Bills got Josh Allen help from Stefon Diggs
Coming off a 10-6 season and a loss in the wild-card round, the 2020 Bills needed instant help in order to take the next step. General manager Brandon Beane made a gutsy call: Rather than drafting the receiver to help put Josh Allen over the top, he bundled draft picks in a trade for Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bills got Diggs and a seventh-round pick in exchange for picks in the first and the fourth through sixth rounds. That’s a lot of draft capital to surrender, but it was the right call, according to 18-year pro quarterback Rich Gannon, now a CBS analyst. In Gannon’s mind, rookie receivers require a lot of hand-holding.
“That’s one of the worst things you can do to a young quarterback,” Gannon said, according to the Buffalo News. “He’s trying to figure out the speed of the game. He’s trying to figure out coverages and concepts and protections, and the last thing he needs to worry about is whether the guy’s going to get the 12 yards instead of running the out cut at 10 or nine.
“The last thing he needs to worry about is whether the guy versus press man is going to make the adjustment in the route at the line of scrimmage and run the fade as opposed to the hook route. Those are things that can really get you in trouble.”
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.