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Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and the elusive third-year breakout

The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are both hoping to contend in a suddenly wide-open AFC East, but there aren’t many superficial similarities between the two teams. The Bills are a strong contender to win the division, while the Jets are hoping merely to compete. What they have in common, though, is signal-callers entering make-or-break seasons. 

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The perception of Josh Allen in Buffalo is of a quarterback on the rise, yet he still ranks among the bottom-10 quarterbacks in PFF passing grade and efficiency metrics like expected points per play over the past two seasons. Sam Darnold has had similarly disappointing grades and stats the past two years. For both teams and fanbases, the hope is that this is the season their respective quarterback breaks out and becomes a true franchise option. But that possibility might be more remote than it seems.

Earlier this year, I looked at the careers of the 2018 quarterback class and found that Allen and Darnold trailed far behind Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson in go-forward projections. When I plotted their projections for PFF passing grade and efficiency (measured by expected points added per dropback), they were nestled into a cohort of passers who never turned the corner in the NFL.

The names that surround Allen and Darnold are some of the bigger failed quarterback picks of the past 15 years, such as Geno Smith, Blake Bortles and Christian Ponder. The likelihood of Allen and Darnold breaking out in the rest of their careers looks slim, but we have to keep in mind that the sample here is still limited to fewer than 40 quarterbacks.

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