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"Crazy to think about" | Josh Allen & Lamar Jackson intertwined by 2018 Draft, dual-threat prowess 

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If you take a look at the list of quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, you'll notice only two of the five are still with the team that drafted them. Those two players will be on opposing sidelines this weekend leading teams with Super Bowl aspirations. 

Josh Allen, the Bills' 7th overall pick, and Lamar Jackson, the Ravens' 32nd overall pick will square off against one another for just the third time in their young careers — only their second-ever meeting in the regular season. 

In an age when high-powered, spread out NFL offenses are leading the way — and rightfully so — it's Allen and Jackson who fit right into the buzzword word of 'most dynamic' when it comes to quarterbacks. Two lethal gunslingers who can change the outcome of a game with either their arm or their legs, yet do it in contrasting styles. 

Allen and Jackson were polarizing prospects coming out of college in 2018, mainly drawing criticism for their passing ability — or lack thereof at the time. Those narratives have been rewritten thanks to steady growth in that area since they entered the league.

Entering Week 4, Jackson leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 10, Allen is right behind him with 9. Both players also lead their team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. To put their impressive starts to the season in perspective, Allen and Jackson are the only two players in NFL history to reach both 9 touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards over the first three games of a season.

'There were a lot of different notions and opinions about both of us coming out of the draft' Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) Buffalo Bills vs Baltimore Ravens, December 8, 2019 at New Era Field.
  Photo by Bill Wippert

"It is crazy to think about," Bills QB Josh Allen said this week about both players' dual-threat success. This will be the first matchup in the Super Bowl era between opposing QBs to each lead their teams in rush yards & rush TDs entering the game and will also be the first game in Bills history where both quarterbacks lead their team in both passing and rushing yards. 

As both the ever-electric Jackson and the bulldozer-like Allen continue what are bound to be two illustrious careers, there are likely to be many case studies in future NFL draft classes on why less than half of the first round QBs in the 2018 class have become faces of their respective franchises. No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, No. 3 pick Sam Darnold and No. 10 pick Josh Rosen have all had to find new homes over the last several seasons.

Not many could have predicted that a quarterback who completed less than 57% of his passes in college and a quarterback who some analysts felt would be better suited at running back or receiver would be the two who became stars and continue to redefine the modern NFL quarterback.

"If you told me it was those two (Allen and Jackson), I would have told you you were crazy," former NFL defensive lineman and current ESPN analyst Marcus Spears said.

Added NFL Network analyst Marc Ross "I would have said yes to Lamar being a star but not Josh Allen. Josh was simply not a good college quarterback… his evolution and development, rarely does that happen."

In less than five full NFL seasons, Allen and Jackson have combined for 25,934 passing yards, 206 passing TDs, 6,534 rushing yards and 55 rushing TDs. Their sustained success in the league is due to a combination of their continued improvement year over year and the organizations putting them in an environment that allows them to thrive.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the situation, honestly," ESPN senior writer and NFL Live analyst Mina Kimes said. "I think it's no coincidence that they landed with very good organizations. Both teams where the head coach and front office throughout most of their careers have been in sync in terms of the roster construction, building a team around them and equipping them with weapons."

A stable organization has been especially beneficial for Allen who didn't reach his breakout season until his third full season in the league. While Jackson reached his MVP season in his second year in the league, more patience was required for Allen to become fully formed.

"Just never really have seen a player — all players have strengths and weaknesses — but Allen just over time made his weaknesses into strengths as a player. That's what's so unique about him," Ross said.

While Allen hasn't sat down to dissect every throw Jackson has made over the last four years or studied Jackson's open field elusiveness, he's still well aware of the history linking the two together and their pre-draft evaluations. 

"There were a lot of different notions and opinions about both of us coming out of the draft. We're just trying to find ways to help our team win football games," Allen said. "Guys respect (Lamar) and love how he plays the game of football. He has a lot of fun doing it, I have a lot of fun doing it."

As NFL teams continue to lean on their quarterbacks for an advantage in the run game — there have been 235 rushing TDs by a QB since 2020 — it is Allen and Jackson who have done it the best. Allen's 32 rushing TDs since 2018 are most in the NFL in that span. Jackson is second with 23.

Yet, when you watch both of them with the ball in their hands this weekend, you will see two completely different styles of running. Lightning and thunder. 

"Lamar is probably one of, if not the most, naturally gifted quarterbacks ever seen when it comes to making people miss tackles. He has a preternatural ability to avoid taking hits, knock on wood," Kimes said.

'He's like the Hulk with the ball' Bills TE Dawson Knox on Allen

"Josh is more of a big powerful, strong run over you kind of guy and Lamar is maybe the best runner by any position in the league," Ross said.

Bills players are already keen on that during this week's preparation, including Von Miller who has faced Jackson once before and will be tasked with deciphering how to attack Baltimore's RPO packages. 

"Lamar is as dynamic as it gets. Early on in his career they tried to say he was just a runner. He did nothing but prove that he's a total package," Miller said. "At any given moment, he could take it 80 yards."

Jackson essentially did just that last week, becoming the first player in NFL history to run for a 75-yard or longer TD and throw for a 75-yard or longer TD. 

As for Allen, he too, is in a category of his own. He is already one of only two QBs in NFL history with 15,000+ passing yds and 2,000+ rushing yds in first five seasons. And as already mentioned, no other QB has more rushing TDs since he entered the league.

"He's looking to take someone's head off when he runs. He's looking to run someone over, stiff arm someone. We're always asking him to slide more just to protect himself, but he's like the Hulk with the ball," Bills tight end Dawson Knox said.

In another unique connection, both Allen and Jackson are in pursuit of what the other already has. Allen entered the season as the MVP betting favorite, a milestone award Jackson won in 2019, while his counterpart is hoping to secure a contract extension similar to what the Bills QB signed last year (6 years, $258 million).

"Given all the drama and the details that go along with all that contract situation that he's got going on, he's just like, 'I'm gonna bet on myself.' And I'm pretty sure it's gonna pay off," Allen said of Jackson.

Week 4's matchup is shaping up a memorable one — a la an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. You can decide which quarterback is which, either answer would be correct.

The Bills held their first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's game in Baltimore against the Ravens. This gallery is presented by On Location.

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