Josh Allen Can Be This Year's Lamar Jackson
Fantasy football research is most valuable when applying ranges of outcomes to players, but when that concept is actually put into practice, it often leads to polarized reactions. The irony of that polarizing feedback is that the whole point of speaking in ranges is to avoid dealing in absolutes. This analysis will explain why Josh Allen has the overall QB1 in his fantasy football range of outcomes in 2020.
When looking for a player who can dominate in fantasy the way that Lamar Jackson did in 2019, it makes sense to start with the only other quarterback with at least 100 rushes last season. Let’s start there.
We know that rushing upside is valuable for quarterbacks in fantasy football and there’s evidence that it may be a prerequisite to being an elite fantasy option in today’s climate. Allen is unlikely to approach the 176 rushes that Jackson attempted last season but that number is also on the high side for Lamar—John Paulsen currently projects 133 rushes for Jackson to 106 for Allen. Touchdowns are not a stable year-to-year stat, but rushing volume means more opportunities for the six-point fantasy scores. Newly signed Cam Newton may be the only quarterback with as much rushing upside as Allen and Jackson.
Passing Tendencies and Accuracy
Both the Bills and Ravens are run-first offenses. For a quarterback to have passing upside in a low-volume passing attack, they need incredible efficiency and one of the quickest ways to boost fantasy efficiency is with the deep ball. Last season, Jackson’s 20.2% deep-ball rate (passes 15+ yards downfield) was the 11th-highest in the league—Josh Allen’s 22.1% ranked fifth. Those rates resulted in 9.4 average intended air yards (fourth-highest) per attempt for Allen to 8.8 average air yards for Jackson (ninth-highest).
The rub on the deep ball is that it’s a high-variance play, but variance is exactly what leads to uber-efficiency. Jackson’s 81 deep attempts resulted in 13 touchdowns, a 16% scoring rate, compared to a 4.9% rate for Allen on similar throws. Touchdown rates typically regress to the mean and Jackson’s true touchdown expectation was actually equal to Allen’s real outcome last season.
There is a very popular rebuttal to the usage versus results discrepancy laid out between these two quarterbacks: accuracy. The thing is, Allen might actually be more accurate than Jackson. Consider their on-target percentages from last season.
|Air Yards||On-Target % (Rank), Allen||On Target % (Rank), Jackson|
|10 or less||77.7% (28)||83.2% (12)|
|10–15||71.7% (11)||69.4% (17)|
|15–20||64.6% (16)||61.5% (22)|
|20+||42.4% (24)||38.6% (28)|
|Overall||58.8% (32)||66.1% (17)|
*Data courtesy of SportsInfoSolutions.
Jackson’s overall on-target percentage is propped up by the fact that he threw passes of 10 yards or fewer at the 12th-highest rate in the league while Allen did so at the 22nd-highest rate. Regardless of how inaccurate a quarterback is overall, short passes are generally high-percentage plays for all teams—on any throw over 10 yards, Allen was notably more accurate than Jackson, across the board.
An extension of the accuracy counterpoint is completion rate. Allen completed just 58.8% of passes to Jackson's 66.1%. This metric is a poor measure of fantasy efficiency but it should be addressed. Like his overall on-target percentage, Jackson’s completion rate was bolstered by his high rate of short passes. Again—deep balls are high variance, hence often incomplete. Remember, though, that Jackson posted a 16% touchdown rate on deep balls despite the 19th-highest completion rate on those passes.
Cam Newton is the posterchild for anti-completion rate sentiments—he’s averaged the fifth-most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks over the last decade, despite a career completion rate below 60%, and won an MVP with a 59.8% completion rate.
This isn’t to prop up Allen as an accurate passer, but rather to illustrate the fantasy upside of players in spite of their accuracy shortcomings.
Josh Allen’s Fantasy Upside in 2020
Early in the offseason, I heard Evan Silva and Adam Levitan discuss Josh Allen as a long-shot MVP candidate. At first, I shrugged it off as a fun bet if you have a couple of extra bucks to throw around but then realized that if we are willing to make this bet, we should consider the likelihood of Allen ending 2020 as the overall QB1. Nine of the last 10 NFL MVPs were quarterbacks. Here is how they fared in fantasy:
Allen clearly has the rushing upside. Here’s where his passing (and MVP) upside comes from.
When Stefon Diggs was traded to Buffalo in March, the overwhelming reaction from the fantasy community has how he and John Brown cap each other’s upside. Surprisingly, little was talked about how it boosted Allen’s ceiling, the knocks being the aforementioned run-heavy offense, and his lack of accuracy. In reality, it gave the Bills one of the most talented receiving duos in the league.
In this year’s Reception Perception breakdown, Matt Harmon charted top-11 success rates against man coverage for both Diggs and Brown. Brown also ranked in the 85th percentile against press while Diggs ranked in the top four against zone coverage. Diggs’s addition to this offense cannot be understated. Here’s what Harmon had to say about the tandem:
“[Diggs] is the best route runner in the NFL. Pair that strength with how good he is at tracking and winning passes in tight windows, Diggs has everything you want in a top-of-the-line receiver...Diggs will pair with John Brown to give Josh Allen perhaps the league’s best route-running and separation duo.”
Maybe just as important as their talent is how Diggs and Brown are most often used—downfield. Both receivers ranked in the top 15 in average targeted air yards last season. This matches up perfectly with Allen’s affinity for the deep ball and favors the high end of variance in Allen’s game.
Winning and Strength of Schedule
For a quarterback to have true QB1 upside, he needs to be on a good team—favorable game script usually leads to increased efficiency. Here are the win totals for the last 10 overall QB1s:
The Bills have double-digit win upside in 2020. DraftKings Sportsbook has Buffalo’s win total set at 8.5 with the juice on the over—only nine teams in the league have a higher over/under. After the Chiefs and Ravens, the AFC is wide open. The Bills have the fifth-best odds to win the conference and are only slight dogs to the Patriots to win their division. A hot start by Allen could be the catalyst for a season with 10+ wins and he is set up just for that.
According to 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed, Buffalo has the third-toughest quarterback schedule but that ranking is heavily slanted by their schedule from Weeks 12–17.
Over their first 10 games, the Patriots look like the only true prohibitive quarterback matchup for Allen. The Bills are expected to be favored in nine of their first 10 games. The schedule gods were on their side, as Buffalo will get a bye to rest up for their tough stretch of games, at which point, they could already be the hottest offense in the league.
The Bottom Line
Josh Allen is a valuable fantasy asset—he’s already proven that. The question in 2020 is whether his upside outweighs his price and the answer is, absolutely, yes. The first seven quarterbacks off the board have the overall QB1 in their ranges of outcomes, but Allen is the most affordable, sometimes going as late as the eighth round. At that point in fantasy drafts, the opportunity cost of taking a quarterback over a running back or wide receiver is greatly diminished compared to doing so in the first four rounds where the top six quarterbacks are often drafted.
Here is why Allen is set up for success:
- He has arguably the best wide receiver duo in the league.
- Deep throws are subject to high variance. Jackson thrived there as an inaccurate passer last season. Allen can do the same.
- He has massive rushing upside.
- The Bills can win 10+ games.
Allen isn’t the most likely player to finish as the QB1 but it is in his range of outcomes and he’s the only player in a situation to do it in the same fashion that Lamar Jackson did last year, besides Lamar himself.
Related Prop Bets
Those looking to maximize their upside with Allen, independent of their entire fantasy team, should consider these related bets available at DraftKings.
|MVP||Josh Allen||+5000||Bet Now!|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Josh Allen||+6600||Bet Now!|
|Josh Allen Passing TDs 21.5||Over||-110||Bet Now!|
|Buffalo Bills Win Total 8.5||Over||-130||Bet Now!|
|Division Winner AFC East||Bills||+160||Bet Now!|
Note: All advice in this article is based on odds available on the date of publishing.