Is Josh Allen the Premier Late-Round Fantasy Football Quarterback?
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Josh Allen
- Rushing production is a game changer for fantasy football quarterbacks. And Josh Allen can produce on the ground.
- Ian Hartitz analyzes where the Buffalo Bills signal-caller ranks among late-round quarterback options.
We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
The Buffalo Bills haven’t exactly taken the NFL by storm with head coach Sean McDermott running the show, pairing a 15-17 regular-season record over that two-season stretch with an underwhelming 10-3 wild card loss to the Jaguars in January 2018.
Still, the Bills boast a sneaky-talented defense and added enough pieces on offenses to think that this year’s edition of the team could at the very least challenge for another potential wild-card berth.
The driving force behind an improvement from their 6-10 campaign in 2018 is the progression of (hopeful) franchise quarterback Josh Allen. The seventh overall pick of the 2018 draft flashed at times and deserves credit for earning five of the team’s six wins over his 11 starts.
What follows is a breakdown of Allen’s ability as a rusher and passer, as well as where he ranks among fantasy football’s top late-round quarterback options.
Josh Allen Has an Extreme Dual-Threat Skill Set
Even Allen’s most optimistic supporters couldn’t have predicted he’d resemble Michael Vick as a rusher.
The former Wyoming signal-caller rushed for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns in 17 career collegiate games … then converted 89 carries into 631 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie.
A closer look at his athletic profiles reveals that Allen is one of the more athletically-gifted quarterbacks in the league. He’s basically a poor man’s version of Cam Newton as far as size and athletic measurables are concerned (all metrics via PlayerProfiler).
Josh Allen vs. Cam Newton
- Height: 6-foot-5 vs. 6-foot-5
- Weight: 237 pounds vs. 248 pounds
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.75 seconds vs. 4.59 seconds
- Burst Score: 118.1 vs. 124.3
- Agility Score: 11.3 vs. 11.1
- SPARQ-x score: 96.7 vs. 112.9
It’s hard to understate just how unique Allen’s rushing production was as a rookie. His average of 53 rushing yards per game is the highest mark in NFL history, although Lamar Jackson would actually be No. 1 at 79 rushing yards per game if we only included his starts from last season.
Either way: Allen deserves credit for being special as a runner.
However, Allen looked like the opposite of special as a passer in 2018. He ranked among the league’s least efficient signal-callers in virtually every metric imaginable.
Josh Allen 2018 ranks as a passer among 29 QBs with at least 10 starts
Yards per attempt: 6.48 (28th)
QB Rating: 67.9 (28th)
TD Rate: 3.1% (27th)
Interception Rate: 3.75% (29th)
Completion Rate: 52.8% (28th)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 8, 2019
Allen did suffer from the Bills’ lack of reliable pass catchers and porous offensive line. He also didn’t exactly take the easy way out and consistently check the ball down, as he attempted a league-high 19.7% of his passes to targets at least 20 yards downfield (Pro Football Focus).
Optimism for Year 2 is rooted in the fact Allen will have a more capable group of pass catchers to target.
The 2019 Bills Offense Actually Has Some Weapons
The Bills are expected to utilize free agent additions John ‘Smokey’ Brown and Cole Beasley along with Allen’s incumbent BFF Robert Foster inside of starting 3-WR sets.
- Josh Brown is one of only 11 wide receivers to average at least 15 yards per reception since 2015 (minimum 100 catches). He posted a 3.8-66.8-0.44 average line in nine games with Joe Flacco in 2018 vs. a 1.3-16-0.13 line in eight games with Lamar Jackson. Brown oozes upside as one of the league’s premier field-stretchers when healthy.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 8, 2019
- Cole Beasley is locked in as the Bills’ starting slot receiver after securing a four-year deal worth $29 million. The former Cowboys slot receiver has worked as one of the league’s shiftiest route runners since entering the league in 2012. Beasley has caught 319-of-450 career targets, good for a 71% catch rate. He joins Michael Thomas (77%), Adam Humphries (70.4%), Tyler Lockett (70.3%) and Adam Thielen (70.1%) as the only wide receivers to catch at least 70% of their targets since 2012 (min. 100 targets). Beasley has quietly and surprisingly functioned as one of the best red-zone weapons for the better part of the past half decade.
76 players had at least 30 targets inside the 10-yard line from 2010-2018
Seven converted at least 50% of those targets into TDs …
Julius Thomas (57%)
Odell Beckham Jr. (53%)
Rob Gronkowski (52%)
Jordan Reed (50%)
Michael Thomas (50%)
Tony Gonzalez (50%)
Cole Beasley (50%) 👀 pic.twitter.com/kSxzTrox2j
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 17, 2019
- Robert Foster was a 2018 undrafted free agent who didn’t run more than 10 routes in a game until Week 10. He proceeded to work as the overall WR26 in PPR over that season-ending stretch, gaining at least 90 yards in four-of-seven games. Foster has the size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.41-second 40-yard dash) to at least serve as an above-average field-stretcher in 2019. He joins Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, Kenny Stills, Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates as the only receivers to average at least 20 yards per reception in a single season over the past 10 years (min. 20 receptions).
We could also feasibly see Zay Jones carve out a bigger role than expected, but it seems unlikely considering the financial resources that the team invested in Brown and Beasley.
The tight end room is led by ex-Bengal Tyler Kroft along with backups Lee Smith and Jason Croom, while LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon and 2019 third-round pick Devin Singletary are expected to form a four-headed running back committee.
Add it all together and it’s easy to see how even a moderate improvement from Allen as a passer, combined with continued excellence on the ground, could lead to plenty of fantasy football goodness in 2019.
Allen Is One of Several Capable Late-Round Quarterbacks
It’s important to note just how much of a game changer rushing production is for quarterbacks when it comes to fantasy football.
There have been 20 instances of a quarterback racking up at least 100 rush attempts in a season since 2000.
Of that group…
- 19-of-20 (95%) finished as a top-17 scorer
- 13-of-20 (65%) finished as a top-six fantasy scorer
- 10-of-20 (50%) finished as a top-three scorer
There are currently four players being selected outside of the top-16 signal caller in average draft position who are ideal candidates for fantasy football investors who want to wait until the later rounds to get their quarterbacks.
- Dak Prescott joins Russell Wilson and Drew Brees as the only players to rank as top-10 fantasy quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons.
- Lamar Jackson is an extreme dual-threat quarterback, the likes of which the league has never seen before. His 147 carries were the most in a single season at the quarterback position in the history of the NFL. He worked as the QB8 from Weeks 11-17 as the starter.
- Mitch Trubisky was the QB7 in Weeks 1-11 before suffering a shoulder injury. Further improvement from the Bears’ franchise quarterback as a natural passer could make him and the Bears league winners sooner than later.
Then there’s Allen.
Personally, I have him ranked behind each of these three signal callers in season-long formats. Both Prescott and Trubisky should benefit from playing in better and more stable offenses, while Jackson’s rushing workload has literally never been seen before at the quarterback position.
My biggest concern with Allen is regression in his rushing ability: 508 of his 631 rushing yards were on scrambles (81%), as the Bills didn’t make a massive habit of utilizing him on designed runs. For reference, just 19% of Jackson’s rushing yardage came on scrambles.
We’ll also need to keep an eye on Allen’s extreme home/away splits moving forward. Only Sam Darnold (+9.9 fantasy points, +1.67 yards per attempt) has exhibited more volatile splits at home vs. on the road compared to Allen (+8, +1.13) among all quarterbacks with their respective current teams.
Still, Allen has proven to have the highest ceiling of this group. He was fantasy football’s QB1 from Weeks 12-17 after returning from an elbow injury and has a fantasy-friendly combination of deep-ball volume and rushing ability. Even if there are potentially better values, Allen is more than capable of smashing his current ADP as the QB18.