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Learning to Love Josh Allen, America’s Most Mobile Mountain

Sure, the critics were right about the Bills rookie’s arm. But they didn’t account for his rushing ability, which has revitalized a once-listless team.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Josh Allen has emerged as the NFL’s big, beautiful, galloping giraffe, America’s most mobile mountain—6 feet, 5 inches of lumber lumbering past defenders. The Buffalo Bills offense was destitute, going three full games without a touchdown while Allen was out with an elbow injury. But now the rookie quarterback is back in action, and he’s rumbling.

We first learned that Allen had moves in Week 3 when Buffalo trounced Minnesota. That was when he hurdled Anthony Barr—typically a feat for 5-foot-9 running backs, not Allen, a giant football catapult.

That same week, the rookie quarterback had two rushing touchdowns, including a leaping dive for the pylon:

OK, cool. A rookie quarterback had a couple of atypical highlights. Neat.

But in the past two weeks, Allen has proved his running talents are no fluke. In a win over Jacksonville in Week 12, Allen had 99 rushing yards, including this touchdown where he stiff-armed Yannick Ngakoue at the line of scrimmage then overpowered Myles Jack to get into the end zone:

A big-bodied QB bulldozing defenders is one thing, but here’s a 45-yard run, the longest by any quarterback this season.

Allen would’ve had more than 100 yards rushing on the day, but lost 2 yards on kneel-downs. Because Buffalo actually won the game.

And last week against the Dolphins, Allen managed 135 yards on the ground. The highlight run was this one, where he put middle linebacker Kiko Alonso on skates:

Getting crossed up by a 6-foot-5 quarterback is embarrassing enough. But worse for Alonso? Allen routinely outran him in the open field.

As middle linebacker, Alonso was the player primarily responsible for ensuring Allen didn’t bust out for any major runs. Allen basically pretended Alonso wasn’t there most of the time, busting out three 20-yard runs. Of Allen’s nine carries, seven went for first downs.

Allen’s 135-yard game is the highest rushing total for a quarterback in the NFL since 2014, when Colin Kaepernick had 151 yards against the Chargers. (Hey, whatever happened to that guy?) Allen’s the first rookie quarterback with back-to-back 90-yard rushing games since 1961, when Billy Kilmer did it for the 49ers. Allen is third among all quarterbacks in rushing yardage despite missing four games with an injury.

The emergence of Allen as a runner has revitalized Buffalo. The Bills have looked competitive in back-to-back games, beating Jacksonville 24-21 and coming close against the Dolphins in a 21-17 loss. A 1-1 record against non-contenders isn’t that impressive, but it’s massive for a team that’s been held to fewer than 10 points in five of 12 games. Most of Allen’s work has come on scrambles, especially as Jacksonville and Miami didn’t seem to respect his ability to run much, but it’s clear that the Bills understand that Allen is a rushing threat, and they’ve also called several read-option and naked bootleg runs for their super-sized sprinter.

I’m not quite sure where this came from. Allen displayed modest mobility in college, never had more than 75 yards rushing in a game, and ran a 4.75 40-yard dash at the combine. Combine speeds, of course, aren’t everything. But now he’s legitimately outsprinting pro linebackers in the open field.

Watching Allen’s stunning running has been quite a trip for me, considering I bashed Allen repeatedly in the pre-draft process. But I still feel somewhat justified in that: Allen is exactly the passer we thought he’d be coming out of college. He’s capable of a few incredible throws a game—and holy cow, are they good throws. This was a beauty:

And this throw was nearly the highlight of the entire NFL season. Allen scrambled for seven solid seconds on fourth-and-11 before uncorking a 40-yard throw to a wide-open Charles Clay in the end zone. The throw wasn’t perfect, but Clay should’ve caught it:

However, for every great throw, there are a bunch of bad ones. The knock on Allen coming out of college was that he was wildly inaccurate, and that seems to remain true, as an alarming number of his passes end up nowhere near receivers. Allen sometimes completely missed on screen passes, somehow failing to hit an unguarded 6-foot-tall target just feet away from him. I was delighted to learn that in the pros, this still happens:

Allen’s passing statistics are abysmal. He’s thrown five touchdowns and seven picks, and he’s thrown a touchdown on just 2.6 percent of his passing attempts. (No other qualified starter is below 3 percent.) He’s dead last in adjusted net yards per attempt. He’s dead last in quarterback rating. He’s been sacked on 10.7 percent of his dropbacks, third-worst in the league.

It’s a bummer, too, because Buffalo’s defense is excellent. They’re third in defensive DVOA, and one of just three teams averaging fewer than 5 yards per play.

I still think the Bills made a mistake by trading up to take Allen seventh with Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson still on the board. If asked to rank the quarterbacks from this year’s draft class, I’d probably put Allen fourth—comfortably behind Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, a smidge behind Josh Rosen, and well ahead of Sam Darnold, who leads the league in interceptions despite playing just nine games and is expected to start this Sunday when the Jets take on the Bills.

But I expected to have Allen fifth. Allen’s college statistics and tape gave the impression of a player who would be an immediate laughing stock in the pros. He might be the rawest passer in the league, but his running capabilities have allowed him to lead an offense effectively.

I thought Allen’s first-round draft status was a major disappointment, a failure of the league to properly interpret the data and information available to it. I was upset he was in the league at the expense of more talented players. But now that I’ve seen Allen run and fly, I’m willing to dial that back a notch. I still don’t think he’s good, but I’m certainly glad a player with these unique traits is in the pros.