Josh Allen vs. Sam Darnold: who wins the long-term QB bout?

For 19 seasons, Tom Brady was the undisputed king of the AFC East quarterback throne. Through the years, the New England Patriots signal-caller remained unopposed and unchallenged atop the pedestal of dominance. 

As with any reigning champion or king, however, the crown must eventually be moved onward to someone worthy of the honor. 

With Brady taking his talents south to Tampa Bay, the AFC East quarterback throne is up for grabs. 

The throne, however, will not be inherited. 

Instead, it will be contested by not one, but two quarterbacks.

Sam Darnold and Josh Allen were both drafted in the top 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Through two seasons in the NFL, both quarterbacks have marched down different paths with different organizations going in unique directions. Both will look to continue to sharpen their craft and become the next franchise-altering play-caller for their respective franchise for years to come. 

Darnold and Allen, however, cannot both sit on a throne built for one. If either wishes to become the next best thing since prime Brady, they will have to go through each other. Between the two, however, which one is likely to come out of the joust victorious? 

To answer this, it is best to start by looking at the two quarterbacks through their first two seasons in the league. 

Per Pro Football Reference, Darnold has collected a win-loss record of 11-15 in 26 games started and has a completion percentage of 59.9%. He has averaged 226.5 passing yards per game for a combined total of 5,889 yards, 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. In total, Darnold has put together a quarterback rating of 81.1 in his NFL tenure as he goes into the 2020 season at the age of 23. 

Allen, meanwhile, has put together a win-loss record of 15-12 in 27 games started (28 games total). Allen’s completion percentage during that span has been 56.3%. He has combined for 5,163 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and has averaged 184.4 yards per game. Those numbers over two seasons gives Allen a quarterback rating of 78.2. Allen has made up for the lack of passing with dynamic rushing, as the dual-threat quarterback has combined for 1,141 rushing yards (an average of 40.8 a game) and 17 rushing touchdowns. Allen heads into the 2020 campaign as a 24-year-old. 

When looking at the individual numbers, Allen (even with lower passing yard numbers) takes the cake and wins the joust over Darnold flat out. 

Looking deeper, however, would show that the overall team structure and roster of Buffalo benefited Allen more than the Jets did for Darnold. 

There are noticeable areas Allen took advantage of on account of Buffalo’s roster around him. The wide receiver duo of John Brown and Cole Beasley both combined for 1,838 yards and 12 touchdowns. In addition to the rushing capabilities of Allen (who rushed for 510 yards and nine touchdowns last season), the Bills supplemented the quarterback with Devin Singletary and Frank Gore, who rushed for 775 and 599 yards, respectively. Lastly, you have Buffalo’s offensive line, which allowed 40 sacks on the season (the 10th lowest amount in the NFL). 

Allen, while talented in his own right, was readily reinforced with weapons on the receiving and rushing end, and had a relatively dependable offensive line to support the heavy option-oriented schemes Buffalo implemented. When combined with a sturdy defensive front, it is no wonder that Buffalo was able to net its second playoff berth in three years last season.

Then, you have Darnold and the Jets. 

The arsenal for Darnold during the 2019 season was nowhere near as lethal as Buffalo. New York’s top wide receivers of Jamison Crowder and Robby Anderson combined for only 1,612 yards and 11 touchdowns. While this number is not too far off from the duo of Buffalo, the rushing attack of the Jets did not reinforce the receiving game. The big-ticket acquisition of Le’Veon Bell rushed to his lowest total (789 yards) since 2015 when he only played in six games (556 yards). 

The limitation of weapons would not be the only bad spell on Darnold. The Jets’ offensive line allowed 52 sacks in 2019, which would be the fourth-highest amount among all teams in the NFL. To top it all off, Darnold missed three games due to contracting mononucleosis.

Limited weapons on offense, a porous offensive line and a spell of mononucleosis would all collectively net the Jets extremely weak totals when compared to the rest of the NFL. These totals would include 194.4 passing yards per game (29th out of 32), 78.6 rushing yards per game (31st out of 32), 17.3 points per game (31st out of 32) and a third-down conversion percentage of 30.7% (31st out of 32). 

Whether from an individual or team perspective, Allen comes out ahead. 

Do not hand him the crown quite yet though. 

In fact, hand it to the other quarterback in the room.

While it is definitely true that Allen has been more productive (and should continue to be with the addition of Stefon Diggs in the offseason), Darnold possesses more accuracy, better arm action and a sharper pocket presence that will only improve with more depth built around him. When looking at offseason acquisitions of the Jets over the past two seasons, the moves have leaned heavily on offense. Over the past two drafts, New York has selected three offensive linemen, headlined by the big-bodied tackle of Mekhi Becton (who was selected 11th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft). 

The help on the offensive line does not stop there. As a way to reinforce the line in preparation for the 2020 season, the Jets have signed numerous offensive linemen including Greg Van Roten, Connor McGovern, George Fant, Alex Lewis and Josh Andrews. Additionally, with the loss of Anderson in free agency, the Jets picked up Breshad Perriman, who in 2019, picked up 645 receiving yards and averaged 17.9 yards per reception. The additional draft selection of Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims only supplements more weapons for Darnold to throw to.

With the additions of offensive linemen and wide receivers, the Jets will have more depth and long-term options at the positions, which will only aid in unlocking Darnold’s potential. After all, it worked at his alma mater. In Darnold’s final year at USC (where he threw for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns), his offensive line allowed 30 sacks on the year. While the total was not elite, it was dependable to give Darnold more pocket protection than his line in New York.

While there is no doubt that Allen has been the better quarterback in the short-term, Darnold will have more depth at the offensive line and wide receiver positions that will only give him more time to throw and make explosive plays all over the field in the long-term. When coupled with New York likely possessing higher draft capital than Buffalo over the next several years, Darnold’s better days are ahead of him. 

Much better days. 

The short-term battle for the vacant AFC East quarterback throne might be Allen’s, but the long-term war will show Darnold as the victor when it is all said and done.

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