Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Bills quarterback Josh Allen will play in the same NFL game for the first time on Sunday, but their first game took place three years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, with representatives from 16 NFL teams.
Scouts were mainly there to see what Allen could do against a Power 5 defense. Allen, a junior prospect for Wyoming, struggled in the 49-13 loss against Oregon and completed 9 of 24 passes for 64 yards and one interception.
Allen had the format and physical tools necessary to develop into a top quarterback in the NFL, but many dwelt on his performance in Oregon prior to the 2018 NFL draft.
Allen, 24, didn’t have a draft-day slide, but he was the third quarterback selected behind Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold before the Bills took a chance on Allen with the seventh overall pick.
Herbert, 22, was an unknown sophomore quarterback for Oregon when scouts flocked to Allen, but Herbert had a similar story three years later.
Herbert also had the size and the physical tools, but had one memorable bad game against Arizona State during his senior season. Herbert was the third quarterback to be selected behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa before the Chargers bet on Herbert’s physical attributes with the sixth overall pick.
Allen and Herbert’s top-10 squads were considered risky, but perhaps it wasn’t seen that way by the Bills and Chargers. They put the bad game tape aside and focused on the untapped potential.
The Chargers told Herbert they would be patient with his development. It didn’t work out like this and it was probably for the best. Herbert is enjoying one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.
The Bills had to wait longer for their raw prospect to develop into a star quarterback.
Allen made his first career against the Chargers in Week 2 of his 2018 rookie season. The Chargers won that day at Buffalo, 31-20, with Allen completing 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
“Obviously I was very nervous and things weren’t going well,” Allen said of his first NFL start this week. “ Looking back, how little I knew about our protections and our plans, and I … could have done better if I could go back and do it all over again. But it did teach me some valuable lessons. I’ve seen several things … it has helped me. Really. ”
The Chargers return to Buffalo on Sunday to face Allen again, but this time he’s an MVP candidate and not the nervous rookie struggling with accuracy.
Allen’s rocket arm and athleticism have the Bills at 7-3 and in position to win their first AFC East title since 1995.
“He’s a beast,” said Joey Bosa, Chargers’ defensive end, of Allen. “Big dude. He doesn’t run like most quarterbacks. He’s going to put one shoulder down and try to run right through you, so you have to be ready for that. He’s getting a little loose with the ball, but he’s a great athlete. He’s a great runner. ”
Bosa was sidelined with an injury when Allen started his first career in 2018. On Sunday, he will have a chance to force Allen into sales, but he won’t get much help on the defense line.
The Chargers will be without pass rushers Melvin Ingram (knee) and Uchenna Nwosu (shoulder / chest) and No. 1 outside cornerback Casey Hayward (groin).
The Chargers will be lean on defense against Allen and star receiver Stefon Diggs, but Herbert and star receiver Keenan Allen are able to keep up with a scoring shootout at Bills Stadium. Chargers will also have running back Austin Ekeler available to play after the team activated him Saturday afternoon.
The front office workers at the Bills and Chargers will likely be concerned about their struggling defense if it turns into a firefight, but at least they will marvel at Allen and Herbert’s missile weapons and pat themselves on the back for drafting the quarterbacks.
Many compared Herbert to Allen during the design process because of their similar skills to large-body quarterbacks with arm strength and mobility. Allen stands at 6-foot-5 and weighs 238 pounds. Herbert is 1.85 feet tall and weighs 236 pounds.
They both grew up playing baseball and basketball and weren’t very recruited after high school. Allen played one season for Reedley College, a junior college in central California, before moving to Wyoming.
Herbert was about to commit to the state of Montana before Oregon made a bid late in the recruitment process.
“It was great to be able to watch Josh,” Herbert said of Allen. “He has been so successful in recent weeks.
“The way he can extend play, read defenses is exceptional. I’m going to watch him on Sunday and learn everything I can from him.”
Herbert said he got the chance to speak to Allen after their college game in 2017 and met him while they coached the Manning Passing Academy.
The two did not participate in a game of who can throw the furthest or fastest in the youth camp. They have arguably the strongest arms in the NFL, along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
“We were coaches,” Herbert said of the academy. “We had a specific group that we took care of. No competition like that. ”
Now Herbert and Allen will compete as NFL star quarterbacks for the first time on Sunday.