We knew a team was going to make a gamble on Josh Allen, the NFL draft’s most polarizing prospect. We didn’t know a team would pay through the nose to do so.
The Bills traded with the Bucs to move up from no. 12 to no. 7 on Thursday to take the Wyoming passer. It cost them two second-round picks to do so, the 53rd and 56th selections in this year’s draft. That is not a bargain—per Chase Stuart’s draft calculator, Buffalo gave up 37.1 points of value for a pick that’s worth only 22.2. That’s 167 cents on the dollar. (And the Bucs used the 12th pick on Vita Vea, who should immediately boost a defensive line that has been in purgatory since Warren Sapp left in 2003.)
Of course, if Allen develops into the franchise passer some envision, that high cost will be easily worth it. But that’s the million-dollar question NFL teams and analysts have been asking all year: Is Allen even any good?Allen has the biggest arm in this draft—maybe the biggest arm the NFL has seen in years—to go with his prototypical frame and excellent mobility. He is the exact type of quarterback scientists would grow in a lab if we had the technology. But playing quarterback requires more than a summation of size, strength, and mobility, and Allen was often unable to put together his immense physical traits into tangible on-field production in Laramie. His accuracy issues are well-worn and he can often fail to make easy reads. That led to disappointing numbers—just 164.7 passing yards per game, 16 touchdowns, six picks, and a 56.3 completion percentage in 11 games as a senior. Advanced metrics view him as a middling talent at best.
But just as the long list of concerns for Allen can make his selection in the top 10 confusing, his highlights have the opposite effect. When he slings it downfield on a rollout, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s almost an understatement to use the “cannon” cliché to describe his arm, and his near-mythical abilities make him a football fantasy. The Bills are betting a treasure chest of draft capital that they can turn that fantasy into a reality. If they do, they’ll have their best passer since Jim Kelly.
But it’s a big if, and the gamble in draft picks doesn’t even count the opportunity cost: At the no. 7 pick, the more polished Josh Rosen and more electric Lamar Jackson were still on the board. The Bills may have felt that, in a quarterback-heavy draft, they had to select their passer of the future. We know it’s the most valuable position in all sports—even just OK passers are great assets—and quarterback-needy teams would be foolish to pass up a chance at a good passer on a rookie contract. At some point, teams have to roll the dice, but the Bills didn’t have to do so on a passer as flawed as Allen.