I can’t say for sure who will be the Bills’ starting quarterback when the regular season begins. But whoever wins the job, one thing seems certain: He’ll have his hands full trying to generate points with a suspect Buffalo offense.
The offensive line, which has been rebuilt from center to left tackle, is weak. The wide receiver corps, which has been dismissed by some experts as the weakest in the NFL, doesn’t get much separation. So the quarterback is likely to spend a lot of his time running for his life and waiting desperately for someone to get open.
So why not give Josh Allen the job? Yes, he’s a rookie. He’ll struggle at times. Allen will make the predictable rookie mistakes once the “real bullets” begin to fly. He’ll take a lot of hits. He’ll make dubious decisions under pressure. But so would Nathan Peterman or AJ McCarron. If the Bills’ quarterback is going to be under fire, why not let the franchise guy learn in the fire?
Based on what I saw in Friday’s second preseason game against Cleveland, Allen is making a strong bid for the job. Speaking of separation, the two veterans aren't creating any between them and the kid. Allen has been more dynamic. McCarron did nothing Friday — although he didn’t get much help from his surrounding cast, especially his O line -- before he was injured. Peterman has been solid in both exhibitions, but why give the No. 1 job to a fifth-round pick with little experience, when the franchise guy seems just as capable.
Allen is more advanced than I had expected at this point. We knew he had a gun, and he’s delivered some laser-like passes in preseason. But his mobility was the most impressive thing. He showed fine footwork in the pocket and bought himself time, particularly on the touchdown pass to Rod Streater in the first half. Allen is a good all-around athlete.
He seems to have a presence too. Sure, he’ll have his share of bad throws. He needs to be better on throws to the flats. But the stage doesn’t seem too big for him; Allen looks like one of those rookies who thrives on the challenge, who rises to the moment. He seems at ease with his role as a leader. He brought much-needed energy to his team in Cleveland.
That’s what the Bills bargained for when they drafted Allen seventh overall last spring. That’s what they’ll be selling to their fans as they continue the difficult task of building a legitimate Super Bowl contender — not a mediocre team that sneaks into the playoffs on a fluke. I’m not suggesting that they play Allen right away to appease the fans. They should play him because it’s the best thing for Allen and the team. If that sells hope and tickets, it’s good for business and the long-term vision of the franchise.
The real games are an entirely different animal. Allen played mostly against backups and against simple defenses. When teams game plan for real, they’ll attack him with exotic defenses and a level of speed and aggression that he hasn’t faced before. It’ll be an awakening, as it is for any rookie NFL quarterback.
But the challenges would be the same for McCarron or Peterman, neither of whom has the athletic ability to thrive with a challenged offense like the Bills. I don’t think either gives the Bills an appreciable edge at the most important position. If that were the case, Sean McDermott would owe it to his players to give the No. 1 job to one of the veterans. You can’t sell team unity inside the locker room and play a raw rookie to appease the fan base and justify the investment.
That's not the case here. Neither McCarron nor Peterman has made a persuasive case for the No. 1 job. Peterman has been very good, and McDermott likes him. But I don't buy the notion that Allen needs to watch from the sidelines for awhile, the way Peterman did a year ago. If you're ready, the the best way to learn is by playing.
Allen is the future. He, and the future, might as well start now.