Josh Allen's 20-100 Touchdown Club
NFL Week 17 - With his three passing touchdowns in the Buffalo Bills' 33-21 victory over the New England Patriots in Week 16, Josh Allen became the first quarterback in history to throw 100 touchdown passes and rush for 20 touchdowns in his first four NFL seasons.
Allen also earned a spot in this week's edition of Arbitrary Milestone Theater!
Arbitrary Milestone Theater: Josh Allen
Every once in a while, Walkthrough goes on a rant after a player reaches some dubious milestone that sounds like it was dreamed up by the editor of his team's media guide. It happens so frequently these days that we're piloting it as a semi-regular feature!
There's nothing arbitrary about a nice, round number like 100 touchdowns, except for the usual caveats that are baked into conversations like these:
- Passing rates have risen so steadily for the last 45 years that all benchmarks are skewed toward players from the last decade, and
- Any "first X seasons" restriction favors players who seized early-career starting jobs, excluding the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers in a way that makes many milestones look misleadingly exclusive and hard-to-reach.
Here are all of the quarterbacks to throw for over 100 touchdowns in their first four seasons:
Marino not only laps the field but did so when passing rates were substantially lower; his 1983-1984 seasons had a sweeping impact on the league that's well beyond the score of a humble Wednesday Walkthrough segment. Mahomes ranks second despite barely playing as a rookie: he may end up changing the game the way Marino did.
Manning's career began so long ago that numbers which appeared eye-popping at the time now look ordinary. For example, Manning led the NFL with 33 touchdowns in his third season in 2000; that figure would tie him for fourth after 15 games in 2021. Palmer led the NFL with just 32 touchdowns in 2005, his second season; again, the game changes so quickly and subtly that statistics from 15 years ago require reinterpretation and adjustment.
The rest of the 100-touchdown list is solid enough, with no embarrassing names sneaking onto it. Andy Dalton threw 99 touchdown passes in his first four seasons, Carson Wentz 97: the fact that 100 touchdowns looks like an actual barrier between recent quarterbacks who happened to start a lot of games early in their career and the good-to-great ones is pure serendipity. Blake Bortles and Baker Mayfield each threw 90 touchdowns in their first four seasons, and Walkthrough is down for any and all Mayfield-Bortles comparisons at this point. (Kidding! Mayfield is somewhat better!)
The truly arbitrary benchmark for Allen is 20 rushing touchdowns. Until very recently, quarterbacks were rarely used as goal-line rushers, except on 1-yard sneaks and perhaps a naked bootleg or two per year. The concept of running zone-reads or power-type plays near the goal line at the NFL level only gained widespread acceptance with Cam Newton and Tim Tebow in 2011. So any benchmark which includes a quarterback's rushing touchdowns is severely skewed toward players from the last decade.
Here are all the quarterbacks who rushed for 20-plus touchdowns in their first four seasons. Let's also include their passing touchdowns for the sake of comparisons/conversation:
|Player||Rushing TD||Passing TD|
Grogan was a beloved tough-guy Patriots scrambler from the mid-1970s through the 1980s. He rushed for 12 touchdowns in 1976, many of them on designed keepers or draw concepts. The 1976 Patriots went 11-3 and featured colorful characters such as tight end/wrassler Russ Francis, running back Sam "Bam" Cunningham (whose brother we will mention in a moment), and John "Hog" Hannah, the Quenton Nelson of the 1970s. Enjoy some highlights!
1976 - Jets at Patriots, Monday Night Football. New England QB Steve Grogan glides 41 yards untouched for a TD. The Pats squeaked by the pesky Jets 41-7. pic.twitter.com/5tnzWAdpjG
— Funhouse (@BackAftaThis) March 5, 2019
Culpepper was a Cam prototype: a king-sized MVP-caliber dual-threat who wore down quickly after a handful of signature seasons. Allen is a similar athlete to Culpepper and Cam and has followed a broadly similar career arc so far. The presence of Grogan and Culpepper on this list is a reminder that 20 touchdowns in four seasons is a low hurdle: a handful of scrambles or an experimental goal-line strategy that results in a few touchdowns can push a player over the threshold.
Michael Vick only rushed for 13 touchdowns in his first four seasons, Randall Cunningham 14. Steve Young bounced around benches early in his career. Patrick Mahomes has rushed for just eight regular-season touchdowns. Rushing touchdowns are of dubious value when evaluating a quarterback's dual-threat capability. Allen's burly rushing style, like Newton's, happens to result in a high rushing yardage-to-touchdown ratio, even when compared to the likes of Jackson.
Allen is coming off his most impressive game of the season, is once again playing at an All-Pro level after a sluggish November, and has lifted the Bills back into the Super Bowl conversation. And yes, he's in some impressive company on both of these lists. Arbitrary milestones are often fun to talk about, especially when they shed new light on the accomplishments of old-timers such as Marino or Grogan. But if Allen does what he set out to do this year, his inauguration of some "100-20 TD Club" won't even merit a footnote to his season. And that's how it should be.
TankWatch: Carolina Panthers
As the 2021 season draws toward its conclusion, TankWatch examines teams at the bottom of the standings and determines how they can claw back toward respectability over the next few weeks/months/years.
Panthers Season in a Nutshell: The Panthers rode a soft schedule to a 3-0 start, then burst into flames like a leaky oxygen tank in a cigar bar. Injuries to Christian McCaffrey, rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn, and others played a major role in their collapse, but comical mismanagement of a hopeless quarterback situation, poor roster construction, and dismal coaching are the Panthers' more troubling long-term issues.
Coaching Situation: Matt Rhule is a fine mid-major program-builder who would scare the heck out of any opponent facing his team in a Duke's Mayo Bowl. At the NFL level, he's an overmatched self-promoter who should probably be an assistant defensive line coach, not a franchise showrunner with near-Belichickian authority.
Rhule recently fired well-regarded offensive coordinator Joe Brady and replaced him by promoting Jeff Nixon, a Rhule bestie since they played together for Penn State in the mid-1990s. Walkthrough was skeptical about Brady since his arrival, but if you cannot interpret what's going on in Panthers headquarters at this point, we're not sure how to spell it out for you.
Quarterback Situation: Sam Darnold looked rejuvenated in September, then crashed back to earth the moment he was expected to do more than hand off and protect leads against opponents such as the Texans or Jets. Cam Newton arrived in October when Darnold was injured and Rhule wanted some good vibes and positive press. Newton is little more than a Wildcat quarterback at this point in his career. Rhule's former Temple quarterback P.J. Walker also keeps finding his way into the lineup so he can complete 50% of his passes and throw one interception per game.
As of now, Rhule is rotating Darnold and Newton more or less randomly, with predictable results.
Building Blocks: Horn looked like a future shutdown cornerback before getting hurt. Running back Chuba Hubbard, tight end Tommy Tremble, and wide receivers Terrace Marshall and Shi Smith have flashed a little potential as rookies. There's a quasi-nucleus of young veterans sprinkled around the roster: McCaffrey of course (though he may already be entering the vaporware stage of his career), safety Jeremy Chinn, edge rusher Brian Burns, tackle Tyler Moton, wide receiver DJ Moore, and others.
Edge rusher Haason Riddick has 11 sacks, but he is playing on a one-year contract and may be expensive to re-sign.
Future Assets: Hoo-boy. The Panthers traded their second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 for Darnold and their third-round pick in 2022 to the Jaguars for cornerback CJ Henderson. They do possess two fourth-round picks next year, however, for complicated and boring reasons.
The Panthers have over $29 million in 2022 cap space. Reddick is their top in-house priority. They must also make decisions on veterans Stephon Gilmore (acquired when the Panthers fooled themselves into thinking they could make a playoff run) and center Matt Paradis. Newton is also a free agent, for what it's worth.
Rebuilding Plan: David Tepper needs to start by calling Rhule into his office and calling bullsh*t on his Jay-Z "hey, this could take seven years" rhetoric. Tepper needs to seize some administrative control by hiring a sheriff in the front office and/or ordering Rhule to bring in some coordinators from outside his inner circle of loyalists. An offensive coordinator who knows how to run NFL practices (emphasizing situational drills, for example) should be a top priority. Rhule has run a coffee klatch for two years. He needs some guardrails and a one-year ultimatum to produce tangible results.
Next: quarterback. The Panthers are financially tied to Darnold for another year. Darnold and the best quarterback on the board in the draft (Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett) makes as much sense as any other plan. One thing the Panthers cannot do is let Rhule entertain his wishful thinking impulses yet again by pursuing someone such as Tyler Huntley.
The Panthers should spend what's left of their draft capital and cap space on offensive line upgrades. Paradis may be easier to extend than replace. Reddick and Gilmore will be popular on the free agent market. Long-range cap management doesn't appear to be one of Rhule's strong suits, whatever they may be.
Of course, Tepper could also just admit his mistake, fire Rhule, and start over. But Rhule survived a Monday meeting with his boss and is therefore likely safe for 2022. Coaches like Rhule have a gift for telling owners just what they want to hear. Also, Rhule should send Urban Meyer an Edible Arrangement for setting the NFL coaching professionalism bar at "he didn't kick anyone."
Final Prognosis: The Panthers are no worse on paper than teams such as the Falcons, Dolphins, or Eagles who pulled themselves together and stayed in the playoff chase all year. Given some improvement on the offensive line and a coherent offensive plan, the Panthers could be competitive with custodial quarterback play or provide a cushioned landing spot for a rookie in 2022. It all depends on organizational competence, which the Panthers currently lack. If Rhule keeps operating the way he has for the last two seasons, nothing the Panthers do in the draft, in free agency, or on the field is likely to matter.
Every Wednesday in the first half of the season, Walkthrough handicapped the field in an NFL awards race or some other type of futures bet. This is the final installment of the series for the 2021 regular season.
The Omicron COVID variant may have saved Aaron Rodgers' MVP bid.
When the exuberantly unvaccinated Rodgers missed the Packers' loss to the Chiefs due to a positive COVID test, his selfishness appeared to disqualify him from the MVP race. But Omicron comes for the vaxxed and unvaxxed alike—at least in terms of positive cases and NFL unavailability, if not severity of symptoms and other critical matters—and it's hard to hold Rodgers' absence against him when just about everyone is being forced to take an unexpected week off. Rodgers is currently a prohibitive -175 favorite to be the NFL MVP.
Some voters might still say "Screw that guy: he LIED to us," but not as many as you might think. Based on my Twitter mentions, some folks think sportswriters sit around all daydreaming up grudges to settle. The awards voters I know honestly don't care about he-said/he-said stuff: they cared about Rodgers' avoidable absence for a critical game and the potential risks he created for teammates.
Rodgers won't be a unanimous choice, and some voters may have been eager to select someone else if given an opportunity. But Tom Brady (+700) fell off the chase after the Saints shutout, and Jonathan Taylor (+600) is just an "in the conversation" guy. (The Associated Press should hand out some runner-up "Conversation" trophies, with the faces of all the television talking heads engraved on the side of it, like the Indy 500 trophy or some demon sorcerer's infernal goblet with the souls of his enemies trapped within it.) Josh Allen (+1200) is unlikely to do anything against the Falcons and Jets that will impress voters enough to get him back in the field, just as Brady would have to vaporize Jets and Panthers defenders with his eyes to get voters' attention back in the final two weeks.
Offensive Player of the Year is now a two-man race between Taylor (-110) and Cooper Kupp (-110). If you didn't choose your fighter when the odds were better last month, you should not bother now. Walkthrough grabbed Taylor +2000 in November and is watching this case VERY closely. Say, awards voters who read (or edit) this column: did you know Cooper Kupp is merely a product of the Rams system, has bad breath, and once burnt down a convent? It's true!
Mac Jones (-500) looks like he has Offensive Rookie of the Year sewn up. Ja'Marr Chase (+350) isn't worth the squeeze at this point. Jones appears to be fading a bit down the stretch, but a rookie quarterback will be forgiven for a fade. Just as Brady won't be able to do enough good against the Jets to sway voters in his favor, it's hard to imagine Jones doing enough bad against the Jaguars and Dolphins to turn voters against him.
Defensive Player of the Year is where the action is. Micah Parsons (+200) feels like schmuckbait, with a candidacy that makes a great television talking point when the Cowboys are kicking the snot out of Washington or the Giants. As impressive as Parsons has been, voters will just chisel him in as Defensive Rookie of the Year (DraftKings didn't even have DROY on the board on Monday; Parsons was probably -90000 or something) and look to award a veteran.
T.J. Watt (+200), who is playing through a rib injury, is probably a high-profile sack or two from clinching the award. Aaron Donald (+800) has been dominant enough over the last month to persuade voters to break precedent and give him a fourth trophy. Trevon Diggs (+750) climbed back into the field with his 11th interception on Sunday night. Diggs could still beat the odds with, say, a two-interception game against the Cardinals on Sunday, but there's also a risk that he will split any pro-Cowboys support with Parsons. If forced to make a late wager, we'd grab Donald for the payout and root for him to wreck things.
Speaking of Cowboys, Dak Prescott is -650 for Comeback Player of the Year. Joe Burrow is schmuckbait at +650. Nick Bosa (+1600) is a fun argument but not a great candidate in a year when Prescott has been the frontrunner since Opening Day.
Matt LaFleur (+175) now leads the field for Coach of the Year and is a highly qualified candidate: the Packers are in line for a No. 1 seed despite significant injuries, and honoring LaFleur for putting up with Rodgers' crap could offset any potential guilt from voting for Rodgers. Frank Reich (+300) and Zac Taylor (+750) remain enticing plays because of their payouts and voters' preference for COY candidates who had "surprising" seasons. Bill Belichick (+750) has fallen off the chase due to a pair of losses; Reich out-coached him in Week 15, sealing Belichick's fate as the greatest coach of all time but not the most outstanding coach of 2021. Some Bills observers in my Twitter timeline were caping for Sean McDermott at +5000 based on the Bills finally winning an important game on Sunday. Bills fans tend to lack perspective when it comes to awards ballots.
Some folks complain that the MVP race gets too much attention in the NFL. It's a traditionalist's lament: who cares about anything except the winner of the Super Bowl? Often, the person complaining spent an hour on Sunday screaming at their television during a 34-10 game because the Over was 45, which tells you all you need to know about traditionalists. I have come to think of the MVP race as just another lens through which to watch the NFL's annual story unfold. This season, the race's twists and turns mirrored developments in the Super Bowl chase and in the real world: Rodgers' saga; Brady's continued excellence (specked with moments of mortality); Taylor's supplanting of Derrick Henry as the lone running back in the you-know-what; all of the ups and downs of Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and others. It has been fun to watch and entertaining, if not necessarily profitable, to wager.
And if you didn't take Prescott to win Comeback Player of the Year at +325 in July like Walkthrough did, better luck next year!