It’s hard to say what Josh Allen will become in the NFL.
Maybe he’ll be the savior in Buffalo, the quarterback who finally leads the Bills to a title and plays a long and fulfilling career there.
Maybe he’ll be a bust.
Maybe, as Pat Shurmur’s assessment seemed to indicate, he’ll wind up in the large pack of middling players who ascend to starting roles at a position scarce on talent but never take the next step to star, to franchise quarterback, to champion.
Whatever happens to him in the coming years, though, will have its roots in the experience he gained as a rookie last season when he started 11 games for the Bills.
“I was really kind of baptized by fire,” Allen said this past week as he prepared for start two in season two, this one against the Giants. “There were a lot of situations that I was kind of thrown into that I wasn’t, maybe, fully prepared for. But I learned from them.”
Maybe the Giants can learn something from it, too.
The Giants and the Bills are very different organizations with very different histories, both recent and beyond, but they have similar goals for their immediate futures. As the Giants groom Daniel Jones to be their starting quarterback at some point in the coming weeks, months or years, perhaps there is something to be gained in perspective from how the Bills have handled Allen.
The Giants clearly have little remorse about selecting Saquon Barkley early in the 2018 draft and passing on the grouping of first-round quarterbacks that included Allen, Sam Darnold of the Jets, and Josh Rosen, who went to the Cardinals and now is with the Dolphins. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay attention to how the players they did not take are progressing, and use it to help Jones.
Like the Giants, the Bills did not start their rookie right away. But they did make sure he had plenty of exposure to the NFL before his first season came to a close.
“I’ve been around it a couple times,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said of breaking in a young quarterback. “In Philadelphia we drafted Donovan McNabb, and again in Carolina when we drafted Cam Newton. You have to continually chase the vision while trying to be as good as you can. With respect to fundamentals and everything, the young quarterback will develop over the course of time, and within that, there will be some growing pains. That’s where he has to continue to grow and learn and the rest of the team has to step their game up.”
Jones made his NFL debut in the opener, playing five snaps in mop-up duty at the end of a lopsided loss. What did he gain from that?
“Like any other rookie playing at that time, getting his first snaps in regular season, getting a little exposure, doing it on the road, all of that kind of stuff,” Giants offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula said.
But the football equivalent of having an infielder pitch the last few outs of a blowout won’t give Jones much of a base no matter how many times he gets to do it. The real learning, the real progress, the real experience comes from playing significant snaps and significant downs.
Allen definitely feels that way.
“You can dive super-deep into your playbook, you can know everything, but until you really have 11 guys flying around you, until you feel that and can feel the pace of the game kind of evolve, I don’t think you can have much success,” he said. “Once you get in, you get in the habit of situations, you get to mess up and your coach is OK with you going out there and making a mistake here or there and he’s not going to ride you for it and hope that you learn from it.
“Obviously, I wasn’t perfect last year, and still not perfect now, and I never will be perfect, but as long as I keep learning from situations and mistakes and allow our team to be put in good positions to win football games, that’s really all that matters.”
The Giants have talked about “The Kansas City Model” since before the draft, a nod to the Chiefs’ transition at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes barely played as a rookie and was the league’s MVP in his second season.
Sometimes that happens and a player can step on the field a fully developed playmaker. More often, though, there are lumps that have to be absorbed by any young quarterback.
As the Giants watch Allen and his draft class grow up, they’ll get to see if absorbing such sloppy rookie play pays off. It might even push them to get Jones on the field more than they expected in 2019.
Allen has yet to flourish, although he did lead the Bills to a comeback win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium last week. He’s 6-6 as a starter, has a career passer rating of 68.2 and has thrown more interceptions (14) than touchdown passes (11). But it’s provided a foundation to build on.
“I think any time on the field is very valuable,” he said. “That’s one thing I can take from last year. It wasn’t all pretty . . . I did feel like I was in a better place, though, mentally, routine-wise, and just learning how to be a professional football player.”
Allen and Jones know each other. They share an agent and spent time together at the Super Bowl in Atlanta earlier this year. Allen said he thinks Jones has a bright future.
“Just a super down-to-Earth kid,” he said of Jones.
Then he stopped to chuckle and correct himself.
“I say ‘kid,’ and we’re one year apart,” he noted.
In terms of hands-on NFL experience, Jones is an infant compared to Allen.
What both will grow up to become remains to be seen. Their earliest stages of development, though, could play a large role in that destiny.