School One: Cyborg Mega-Athletes
Josh Allen’s success has created a problem in the NFL.
In 2018, the Bills stumbled into a raw prospect out of Wyoming who, despite extreme struggles with mechanics, accuracy, and generally operating an offense at a high level, had genuinely one-in-a-billion arm talent. His name was Josh Allen, and the Bills decided that this malleable mass of clay was the rock on which they would build their football church. Much of the football world, including myself at the time, laughed at them for making such a stupid decision.
Naturally, it just so happened that the Buffalo Bills hit the lottery that night. By a combination of hard work, exceptional coaching from Sean McDermott, and probably a little bit of dumb luck, Allen was a force to be reckoned with by year three of his career. The laser cannon attached to Allen’s right arm took Buffalo from perennially mediocre to consistent Super Bowl contenders, and they did it basically overnight. The NFL is a copycat league through and through, and thus the other 31 teams set out in their quest for the mythical “Next Josh Allen.”
It started in 2020, as their was no truly elite freaky-athletic quarterback in 2019, aside from Kyler Murray who is an entirely different breed of freak. Instead, 2020 introduced us to Oregon product Justin Herbert. Herbert’s introverted nature and frankly, odd leadership style, scared some scouts away from drafting him early, but the Los Angeles Chargers saw his athletic ability and simply could not resist.
The Chargers didn’t exactly hit the lottery like the Bills did with Josh Allen, but they came mighty close. Herbert came out guns blazing, nearly out-dueled Patrick Mahomes in his first career start, and then went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. His second year brought even more individual success, as Herbert threw for over 5,000 yards and came within a whisker of leading Los Angeles to the playoffs.
But of course, not every team’s “big swing” is going to be a home run, as evidenced during the 2021 NFL Draft. The New York Jets, desperate for a quarterback, saw Zach Wilson’s supreme ability and beautiful deep passing at BYU, and took a chance. Wilson has not worked out for them. That being said, he was only a rookie last year. As a personal Zach Wilson believer, I’m holding out hope that things will click for him like they did for Allen by year two or three. But, I can’t say I’m holding my breath too hard.
The central fantasy of having this kind of quarterback is obvious. If you watch the Bills play, you can see Allen, game in and game out, drag his team across the finish line by sheer force of will. Buffalo shows opposing teams, with consistency, that they have Josh Allen and you don’t, and that’s why they’re going to win the game. The Chargers do a lot of the same thing, but with much less success, because again, they don’t have Josh Allen. There’s only one of that guy.
And that’s the problem with this philosophy for a lot of teams. Allen is a truly one-of-one talent, and over the past four years he has been often imitated, but has never even come close to being duplicated. NFL teams have taken notice of this, and a second school of thought has arisen. That being, what if we did the exact opposite of this?