Josh Allen is proof of QB development — and Bears’ Justin Fields can be next

When Allen walks into a frozen Soldier Field on Saturday, he’ll do so as more than just one of the best players in the NFL. He’s a testament to individual development and a team customizing its offense around its quarterback — and then not giving up on him.

SHARE Josh Allen is proof of QB development — and Bears’ Justin Fields can be next
Bills quarterback Josh Allen waves after the Patriots game.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen waves after the Patriots game.

Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Josh Allen was on his way to being a bust at the end of 2019.

There have been 98 quarterbacks this century to start at least 10 games over their first two seasons. Compared to them, the Bills quarterback was nothing special. His passer rating ranked 54th among two-year quarterbacks. He was 38th in touchdown passes, 69th in completion percentage and 63rd in passing yards per game.

Mitch Trubisky had better numbers his first two seasons. So did a lot of players.

When Allen walks into a frozen Soldier Field on Saturday, he’ll do so as more than just one of the best players in the NFL. He’s a testament to individual development and a team customizing its offense around its quarterback — and then not giving up on him.

“Josh, he’s really grown in this league,” Bears quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said. “He’s grown into one of the dudes — for lack of a better term — playing his position.”

Maybe Justin Fields can join him someday. The Bears quarterback already has loud tools — he needs 207 yards over the next three games to pass Lamar Jackson for the best rushing season by a quarterback.

When Fields says he doesn’t plan to rush for 1,000 yards every season, though, he’s making a statement with which his coaches agree. Fields runs frequently because it’s the best way for this year’s team to move the ball. The Bears need to develop an offense in which that’s not the case.

“He sees the big picture and where we want to go as an offense,” Janocko said.

The Bears think they have their quarterback of the future. Now the entire franchise is devoted to turning him into the same multidimensional weapon that Allen has become.

The Bills are proof it can be done. It took pairing him with a budding star at offensive coordinator — Brian Daboll parlayed the job into the Giants’ head-coaching job during the offseason — and trading for superstar wide receiver Stefon Diggs to hasten the process.

“They’ve certainly done a great job with him, coaching him and developing him over the years,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s one of the premier players in the NFL.”

If Allen’s first two seasons were underwhelming, his next three were superstar-level. He ranks eighth in passer rating, 13th in completion percentage and 12th in passing yards per game among all quarterbacks this century in seasons 3 to 5.

He finished second in MVP voting in 2020. On Thursday, he was named to his second Pro Bowl.

“I don’t know all the coaches that he was exposed to right away, and I don’t know the actual evolution of him in his learning, but when you see him from Year 1 to now, that’s what you hope to grow,” Janocko said. “As a coach, that’s what you hope to grow — with a player and somebody who has special physical talents, especially.”

Allen threw for more yards before Halloween than Fields has thrown for all season. His 3,857 passing yards rank fifth in the NFL, and his 30 touchdown passes rank third. And he’s fourth in rushing yards by a quarterback.

“You watched him come in a few years ago, and you can see his development — just from his game management, how he operates during two-minute, all those things that you have to do as a quarterback in situations,” Eberflus said. “And he’s improved on those, in the red zone and third down. They have good numbers there, and that’s really attributed to him.”

Those are some of the very categories that the Bears have challenged Fields to improve.

They’re happy with the growth they’ve seen this season — Janocko said that comparing Fields’ first Packers game to his second put the difference in stark relief — but want to see more.

Fields can tell the difference compared to earlier in the season, too, though he doesn’t know how to put it into words.

“With my overall understanding of the game, this offense,” he said, “I just can’t describe it. Just a certain way of, like, you got to kind of feel the flow of the game.”

That’s progress.

There’s more to go.

“It’s important that you have growth from your young quarterback,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “And I think all that stuff is trending positively.”

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