I wrote Thursday about how much the Bills have changed between 2018 and today. Among the many changes, quarterback Josh Allen’s growth is the most important — and the most unusual.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Allen is a completely different player today than he was then, and his development should be seen as a huge win for the Bills, even it’s not the sort of thing you could reasonably expect anybody to duplicate again.
One of Allen’s biggest areas of improvement is his throw selection. You can see this show up in a couple of different ways, but the biggest indicator is his average depth of target (ADOT). According to Sports Information Solutions, Allen’s ADOT in 2018 was 10.2 yards, a frankly absurd number that paints rookie Allen as exactly what he was: a big-armed thrower who wanted to chuck deep shots and hope for the best.
Allen’s ADOT has dropped to 7.0 yards in 2022, but diving into the data further shows that he’s not just dinking and dunking the ball down the field. His ADOT is only a bit ahead of Aaron Rodgers (6.3 ADOT in 2022), but they have wildly different profiles for their throws.
While Rodgers has thrown more than 27% of his passes behind the line of scrimmage, only 16.8% of Allen’s throws have come in that area — nearly the exact same figure as his rookie year (16.6%). Allen, instead, has targeted the short and intermediate areas of the field with aplomb, throwing about 73% of his passes in those areas. He’s gotten to that number by cutting his deep throws; while 19% of his throws were deep shots in 2018, just 10% are in 2022.
But crucially, Allen is still completing his deep throws when he takes them. He’s only thrown 23 throws that can be categorized as “deep” this year, but he’s completed 15 of them — only one fewer than in his entire rookie season, when he attempted 59 deep throws.
This is a good example of another key development for Allen: he’s throwing better passes to all areas of the field. According, once again, to Sports Information Solutions, Allen is throwing a much more accurate ball than he did as a rookie. In 2018, SIS deemed just 71.4% of Allen’s passes “on target.” Among 33 quarterbacks who threw at least 200 passes that season, Allen ranked 33rd — dead last — in that metric. Just for reference, there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
In 2022, Allen is virtually a completely different player. SIS has rated 80.7% of his throws “on target” this season, good for second in the league among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 passes.
Allen’s development is nothing short of remarkable. It’s true that coaching and personnel are a part of his success, and the Bills have consistently worked to develop the rest of their offense around their quarterback. But Allen’s growth is also a credit to the work he’s put in, and he’s grown from merely a promising prospect into one of the most fearsome players in the entire NFL.