It's the year when it's supposed to all come together for a young franchise quarterback. The third season for signal callers, who have had the opportunity to play a good deal their first two years, usually take that critical step of processing most everything an NFL defense can throw at them. Entering the NFL with less game experience than many of his 2018 QB class counterparts, Josh Allen had a steep learning curve to traverse, but he's made significant strides with his game to this point.
"Certainly there were areas from year one to year two that he improved in and now in year three we're looking for him to make another jump," said head coach Sean McDermott.
There are still areas of Allen's individual game that still must be polished and honed, but many NFL analysts consider the steps that Buffalo's quarterback must take in 2020 as wholly attainable.
"The obvious things are a better understanding mentally of all that's happening on the field," said ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky of Allen's next mile post.
A captain for the first time in 2019, Josh Allen led the Bills to the playoffs in just his second season while going 10-5 in his regular season starts. As Allen gets ready to improve yet again in his third season, scroll through to view some of his top moments from a memorable 2019 season.
Last season, Allen found himself under pressure due to his need for an extra half second to process what he was seeing unfold on the field on pass plays. Sometimes he effectively used his athletic ability to buy the extra time he needed to make a play. Other times the pressure would prevent the play from being made.
"He has to get through his reads faster," said CBS NFL analyst Pete Prisco. "He can't put his foot in the ground and go to read one and then get out of there. He's got to put his foot in the ground, go read one, read two, read three and check down. It's a lot safer than running around.
"He's a great athlete and it's nice to be able to move around, but he's got to move around to throw more than he's moved around to run. That's the next step for him. I think he can do it, but that's what he has to do to become a more effective quarterback."
According to Player Profiler's advanced stats, Allen's pressured completion percentage was 17.1 percent in 2019, down from 22.2 percent his rookie year. That was partly due to Allen's efforts to hang in the pocket an extra beat a bit more often in 2019 to make a play with his arm rather than his legs.
Making more plays on schedule would help Allen's success in avoiding the need to perform in such pressure situations. That often comes through recognition of what the opposing defense is trying to accomplish. If Allen can get to his answers quicker he'll be under pressure less often and can raise his collective level of execution.
"There's the mental side of it that you do see for quarterbacks in their third year where it all starts to slow down for them," said USA Today NFL writer Mark Schofield. "Tony Romo just sat down with Josh and some other young quarterbacks and talked about the mental side of the game and Josh talked about not focusing so much on exactly what the defense is doing, but more so ruling out what the defense can't do. Josh was talking about that being something he was trying to do in the year ahead. That improves your thinking as a quarterback."
What should also help Allen's processing is the improved talent around him on offense. For the second straight offseason, GM Brandon Beane and his personnel department have successfully equipped Buffalo's offense with more weapons. Chief among those is Stefon Diggs, who brings an 81.8 percent catch rate to the table along with a proven ability to gain separation from his defender quickly. This ability alone should provide Allen with quicker answers on pass plays, even if Diggs is not option one on a given play.
"As a quarterback, the more separation, the easier the throws are able to be made," Allen said. "(Diggs) gets open and when you can rely on a guy to just get open and win his one-on-one matchups, it's a safety net, in my opinion. He's shown an ability to do this for the few years that he's played in the league. He's a big-time player and he's got the respect of every defense out there and again, when he can run routes and double moves and get open and make plays that becomes a quarterback's best friend."
The additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley in 2019 helped to raise Allen's completion percentage by more than six percent last season. Diggs should serve to push Allen's completion rate forward as well in 2020. If players like Dawson Knox and rookies like Gabe Davis and Isaiah Hodgins can come along as well it could help Allen's play in one specific area.
Allen's completion percentage in the red zone last season did improve from 44.4 percent to 49.1 percent. It's obvious Diggs will help in scoring territory, but Knox, Davis and Hodgins all have wide catch radiuses. If they can come along and at least play a role situationally it could aid in raising the point production of Buffalo's offense and Allen's passing touchdown total.
"You want to see four or five games this year that they win because of Josh," said Orlovsky. "He has to find a way a couple of times where he's the reason they score 28 or 30 points and they win because of him. And then a more consistent approach with his game. The addition of Stefon Diggs is the best receiver he's ever had. So taking the step of, 'Hey defense don't worry, if you have an off day, I've got it.' That's where young quarterbacks separate and become difference makers."
Deep ball accuracy is an area where Allen will also work to raise his game. His deep ball completion percentage in 2019 was 25 percent, down slightly from that of his rookie season (26.2%). The average across the league is usually above 40 percent, but Allen doesn't need to take a monumental leap to make a difference.
"That's where they have the opportunity to become an even better football team and offense if they hit one to two more of those throws a game," said Orlovsky. "Giving those guys more opportunities to make those plays. That's where he has to take a step forward."
"Nobody expects a quarterback to hit 90 percent of his throws 20 yards or more downfield," said Schofield. "Can you hit one or two a game? Just being able to hit a couple of those from game to game will put something in the mind of defensive coordinators. But you have to hit on one or two of those deep balls with some measure of consistency to force defensive coordinators to respect it."
Allen has worked diligently in the offseason to correct his footwork to have a more consistent base on long throws and has additionally worked on his release point after too many of his deep shots last season carried beyond the intended target.
The final area Allen seeks to improve is ball security.
"For Josh it's about taking care of the football," said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. "He did a great job cutting back on the interceptions over the final 11 or 12 games. It's just the fumbles when he runs."
Kiper is correct. While Allen was able to noticeably cut back on interceptions in the second half of the 2019 season, fumbles were still an issue. He had 16 on the year including the Wild Card game. Fortunately he lost only four of them. But he must hold onto the ball more effectively, especially when extending plays with his legs.
But Kiper sees bright days ahead for Buffalo's offensive leader.
"I'm excited to see if Josh can take those steps he made from last year to this year," he said. "If he does then he's going to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. He's close to that now. He's one of the best. He will be one of the best quarterbacks in the league by year three if he makes that jump up and he improves with that deep ball accuracy and takes better care of the football."
In addition to the work he's put in to perfect his craft, Allen has also sought the input of veteran and former NFL quarterbacks for counsel on making the kind of leap he believes he can make.
"I've had a few long talks with guys that played the position for a long time," Allen said. "They say year three is when things start to click and things start to happen. I'm super excited for that aspect and being in the same system for the third year and being under the same coaches for a third year now.
"I think that what we've got going on in Buffalo is a special thing and I'm super fortunate to be a part of it. Again, we need to see results. So, I understand how big of a year it is. But I'm taking it one day at a time and I'm just trying to do my part, trying to be the best quarterback that I can be for the Buffalo Bills."