Jim Kelly’s retirement after the 1996 season ended an era of continual top-tier quarterback play and began a subsequent phase of uncertainty in Buffalo.
The quarterback who spent the most time there from 1996 to the present? Alex Van Pelt, who started 11 games over a seven-year span.
The guy who had the best single-season performance? It’s hard to say, but using Pro Football Reference’s approximate value statistic, it’s Tyrod Taylor in 2016. In both 2015 and 2016, Taylor threw for over 3,000 yards, over 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Taylor’s 2016 campaign was the only season for a Bills quarterback over the past 23 years that has ranked within the league top-150 in approximate value. Drew Bledsoe’s 2002 season is another contender.
The Bills drafted Todd Collins, J.P. Losman and E.J. Manuel with early draft picks, and none of them started more than 35 games in their NFL careers. Trent Edwards, Cardale Jones and Nathan Peterman were later fliers who didn’t do too much — Peterman was actually historically bad. And there were veterans who came to town, as well, including Bledsoe, Doug Flutie and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
All in all, the crop of quarterbacks that has represented the Bills since Kelly’s retirement has been a fairly uninspiring group. Even Josh Allen, who the Bills selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, was a head-scratcher in terms of whether or not he could truly become a franchise quarterback.
Then 2020 came, and you can count Kelly himself among the many fans who have become fervent fanatics of the Josh Allen show early on in the season.
“This is the first time I’ve ever really, really been excited about a quarterback on our team,” Kelly told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. “We’ve had some, and it was always, ‘We’ll see. We’ll see. … Yeah, he’s got the potential, but we’ll see.’ With Josh, I think he’s proven to everybody he can play.”
And how can Kelly not be excited? Through three games, Allen has led the Bills through three high-scoring affairs where every ounce of offense was needed, and he delivered. He’s gone for over 1,000 yards and has tossed just one interception intertwined amid his 10 touchdowns. As usual, his impact has been felt on the ground, too, with two rushing scores to tack on to his all-out effort so far.
In fact, his performance has even surpassed that of Kelly and all other Bills quarterbacks in some areas.
Kelly sees three keys for Allen’s amazing 2020 campaign to become a consistent and legitimate reality going forward. For one, he needs to stay healthy. Kelly added that the second key is for Allen to stay in the same system for “a number of years” so that he continues to develop with familiar surroundings. And third, Kelly emphasized the team supplying Allen with the necessary support.
The acquisition of Stefon Diggs played a big part in factor No. 3, as the Allen-Diggs connection has been strong. Diggs has 288 yards and two scores with a 71.4% catch rate through three games. Outside of the Bills’ new WR1, there’s plenty of firepower throughout the offense that has enabled Allen to play strongly.
But really, with credit to the rest of the offense, it’s Josh Allen’s world in Buffalo and we’re all taking it in.
When you excite the greatest quarterback in franchise history — no, really excite him — that’s reason for the whole fan base to feel excited as well.