There is no possible way for me to scout every single prospect in the NFL Draft, so I try to pick out prospects who will fit the Bills’ DNA, fill possible positions of need, and fit the scheme. One idea I wanted to examine was what throws by Josh Allen were the most common in Brian Daboll’s offense. Then, who among the top receivers, based on a poll of our staff — Jerry Jeudy, Cedee Lamb, Laviska Shenault Jr., Henry Ruggs III, Jalen Reagor and Justin Jefferson — executed those routes at a high level. Here’s what I discovered.
Allen’s top three routes were the curl, dig, and flat patterns.
On curl routes, Allen completed 47 out of 63 attempts for 393 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception while averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, per SportsInfo Solutions (SIS). Bills fans saw this route generally on their ‘spot/snag’ concept, where Allen had to choose between the corner, curl, and flat route in their three-level passing game. Wide receiver John Brown led this route with 19 receptions for 179 yards. Only 33 yards were after contact, but he converted the curl route into a first down 11 times. Beasley was second on the team with 14 receptions for 112 yards, with 32 yards after contact. After Brown and Beasley there was a major drop-off, with Gore pitching in four receptions on this particular route. Stationary routes like the curl route are Allen’s favorite, which makes it a priority to bring guys in that are able to not only catch it, but also create after the catch.
The most successful receiver on this route among the top-six was Lamb. He was second in targets with 13, but he racked up the most yards at 215, the only touchdown, and blew away the competition with 146 yards after the catch. His YAC was 62 yards ahead of second place, held down by Jeudy.
The dig route was Allen’s highest-rated route, (122.4) per SIS, which is no surprise. He was one of the most efficient passers in that 10-19 yard range. In 2019, Allen went 22-for-35 for 309 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. His 8.8 yards per attempt was the highest among all of the top routes he threw last season. The dig route is not a route that every wide receiver can run. The receiver must have the speed to run that 12-15-yard in-breaking route within the play’s timing, but he must also possess the brass to catch the ball in traffic over the middle. Doing all of this when Allen is throwing lasers, some of which are not perfectly placed, isn’t an easy task. Wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley led with 13 targets each. Brown reeled in nine passes for 130 yards with 22 yards coming after the catch. Beasley caught eight passes for 100 yards, 24 yards after contact. But Brown also dropped two passes with Beasley only dropping one. As a team, the Bills dropped six dig routes in 2019, which was tied for the league lead with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Of the top-six receivers, all of them possess the proper tools to run this route, but as you can see, not every single player was utilized on the dig route. While Jefferson led in most of the categories purely based on surrounding talent, sample, and opportunities, I like Shenault Jr.’s blend of utilization, speed, and ability to add yards after the catch AND contact. A few other receivers who I believe possess the traits to carry out this route AND were utilized are USC’s Michael Pittman Jr (11 recs, 119 yards, 3 TDs, 0 drops), Texas A&M’s Quartney Davis (10 recs, 129 yards, 0 TDs, 1 drop), and Tennesee’s JaJuan Jennings (4 recs, 104 yards, 1 TD, 0 drops, 5 broken tackles). So if the Bills and Allen are going to keep emphasizing the dig route in 2020, they could add great weapons not only early, but also later in the draft.
Finally, Allen’s third-most thrown route of 2019 was the flat route. He completed 29 of 34 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. These routes are usually the short option in a three-level passing concept, generally as an outlet type of route. A route where the receiver becomes a safety net for his QB, but someone who can turn that short route into a bigger play. Running back Devin Singletary had the most receptions on this route with nine for 47 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Cole Beasley was second on the team with six receptions for 36 yards and two touchdowns.
Only two players from the top-six receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft registered at least one target on flat routes. They were Jefferson and Shenault. The latter registered one target and one drop, whereas Jefferson was targeted eight times and caught seven passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. Forty-three of those yards were yards after the catch and went for first downs. Clearly, of the listed wide receivers, Justin Jefferson is the standout performer on flat routes.
Another option in the draft who was utilized a ton on flat routes isn’t a wide receiver. Talented LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was targeted the second-most on flat routes in 2019 with 18. He reeled in 16 receptions for 114 yards and eight first downs, with 40 yards coming after contact. One other notable option on flat routes is Boston College’s running back, AJ Dillon. He racked up five receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown with 55 yards coming after contact.
Statistics are just one factor in an evaluation. They don’t paint the entire picture. Just because receivers lacked production on these routes doesn’t mean they aren’t able to execute them for Allen on Sundays. Also, talent isn’t evenly distributed across the college landscape, so that can affect production. But what we can draw from this exercise is that when watching their film, look for certain schemes, routes, and traits that may fit Allen and the Daboll offense. The easier you spot those things, the easier you can project their success in the Bills’ offense.