No good reason for Allen not to start now

In failure, the Bills' E.J. Manuel era shows benefit to starting rookies

Mike Schopp
July 31, 2018 - 10:16 am

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

This piece works off the premise that going with Josh Allen as starting quarterback Week 1 this year is the Buffalo Bills' best option.

Why?

Because there's no evidence through NFL history that rookie quarterbacks benefit by watching. Some watched and played well, some watched and flunked, some played right away and played well, some played right away and flunked.

Allen's results as Bills quarterback will not come down to how long the team waits before he becomes the starter. Moreover, there is good reason to believe the Bills are below replacement level at quarterback with either A.J. McCarron or Nathan Peterman in the job. Each was a low draft pick, and in McCarron's case, the league had a chance to evaluate him as a free agent this offseason and largely passed. At 27, McCarron is a great age for an investment. Several teams on a quarterback hunt went elsewhere, leaving McCarron as an affordable insurance option for the Bills.

As to concern that if Allen were to play he'd suffer psychological damage playing in an offense seemingly relatively bereft of talent, well, I'm willing to take that chance. While young, these early draft picks are usually highly confident people that have already had to endure plenty of personal criticism. I'm assuming that one of the most heavily scrutinized and criticized draft picks of all time, Allen, can handle a bumpy start to his career.

There will be fan criticism too, but so what, there's always that. As was evident on our show Monday, plenty of fans will defend Bills players and coaches on any front. So far less than a week into training camp the loudest and, perhaps, best refrain defending Allen and the Bills' selection of him is along the lines of, "No one knows that it won't work". True that.

I'd be shocked if either McCarron or Peterman won half their starts this year as Bills quarterback. The schedule is tough, and tough early. There's an argument for waiting on Allen, as there is always one in these cases, but it is not an especially good argument. Play him.

External expectations for the Bills in 2018 seem about as low as ever -- notable, considering of course that the Bills were in the playoffs last year. Last season was really cool, and the eight days between and including the stunning New Year's Eve developments and the playoff loss in Jacksonville were a delightful getaway for the team and its fans.

We know that teams that win between six and nine games in a season are ostensibly of the same quality. We know the 2017 Bills capitalized on extreme turnover luck. We know that the defense was decent but that offense in the NFL is more important, and we know that they're starting over at quarterback and, to a large extent, on the offensive line.

It doesn't look much like a good team. Put the kid in and let's see it start to grow.

The Bills' descriptions of how they came to Allen don't to me sound much like modern science. General manager Brandon Beane talked Thursday on WGR about how Allen was disadvantaged at Wyoming by a lack of comparable surrounding talent. This point doesn't work so well because it's not like their opponents' talent was so great either. Most excuses for why Allen didn't have more success at Wyoming have been debunked, although, again, "No one knows that it won't work". Beane also stressed how it was important to him to sit with Allen and get a feel for him. This thinking tends to expose people to hidden biases, and can make choosing a quarterback become about things that have nothing to do with actually playing quarterback.

Allen has to be pretty damn good for this to be a success. You traded up twice to get him, in an offseason where there were many available quarterback options. The Bills decided the draft was their preferred option, and in their defense, it's the best way and almost the only way to get a great one. But most first-round quarterback picks aren't great, and this one starts with big questions in terms of surrounding talent.

The sooner you put him in, the sooner you find out what you've got. The longer you wait, the longer you delay that -- in the name of some theory that he'll benefit significantly by not playing, a theory that's maybe logical but certainly not bankable.

Five years ago, the Bills didn't intend for their first-round pick that year, E.J. Manuel, to start right away. However, Kevin Kolb got hurt and Manuel played. Although Manuel was not a success, I say it's absolutely a good thing that he played immediately because the Bills didn't waste games (or years) trying to salvage him. In his second season, he was benched for a journeyman veteran that immediately outplayed him. After his third season, he was gone. The Bills benefitted by not waiting around to throw Manuel in, and then by not waiting around to throw him out.

It might have been accidental, but the Bills got that right. Let's see that again.

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