The Buffalo Bills' decision to start Nathan Peterman in their regular-season opener Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens will be mocked by some, much like Bills coach Sean McDermott was jeered for his call to start Peterman in a disastrous 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last season.
At first glance to those who only know Peterman for his five-interception starting debut last November, the move looks odd.
The Bills are starting Nathan Peterman? Really?
Really. To anyone who has watched the entire Bills preseason and followed training camp closely, it should not come as much of a surprise.
Trading Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns in March, signing AJ McCarron as a free agent and then trading up in April's draft to select Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick led some to assume the starting race this season was between McCarron and Allen. To some, Peterman was an afterthought, his career permanently tainted by his performance in one game last season.
Indeed, Peterman's 2017 season could not have gone much worse. Out of 52 quarterbacks who threw at least 40 passes last season, Peterman ranked last in Total QBR and interception percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He also finished with a 49 percent completion rate (51st) and averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt (50th).
Peterman, a fifth-round pick in 2017, still faces an uphill battle to become a successful NFL quarterback. Few late-round quarterbacks ever become established NFL starters, and Peterman will eventually lose his job to Allen in Buffalo. The Bills did not spend upward of a first-overall pick in draft capital to take Allen only to have him sit behind Peterman for an extended period.
But in the short term, Peterman made the most sense to McDermott, who was involved in drafting Peterman last year.
McDermott praised Peterman for his maturity late last season, saying the then-rookie quarterback had a "set of core values" and "great support" from his family and wife. Peterman further impressed McDermott in their exit interview after the season by presenting his coach with a detailed plan for his offseason, something that McDermott cited in explaining why Peterman is a "DNA" fit for his team. In June, McDermott came to Peterman's defense by saying he did not get enough credit for starting in a December win over the Indianapolis Colts, while calling him a "winner."
General manager Brandon Beane, who was hired after Peterman was drafted last year, has also lauded Peterman for being "super smart," noting that he performed well in meeting-room quizzes by new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
The Bills clearly hold Peterman in a high regard despite his being written off in some circles after his five-interception disaster last season. McDermott gave Peterman every opportunity to win the starting job by having him split first-team reps with McCarron beginning with organized team activities in May and continuing into training camp this August.
It was Peterman's strong performance in OTAs and June minicamp that led to my prediction in June that Peterman should be considered a serious contender to start, and Peterman's statistics this preseason did little to slow that momentum. He finished the preseason 33-of-41 passing for 431 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, including a 9-of-10 stat line when leading the Bills' first-team offense against the Carolina Panthers' first-team defense.
From OTAs in May through Peterman's final preseason appearance Aug. 26, there were no meltdowns and few errant passes that would suggest he has not recovered from what was one of the worst starting quarterback debuts in NFL history.
That steadiness made Peterman the best choice to at least begin to navigate a schedule for the Bills that includes five out of their first eight games on the road before Buffalo hosts the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8.
McDermott's mistake in starting Peterman last season on the road against the Chargers should be reason for McDermott to turn to Peterman again to start this season instead of Allen, a rookie.
While McDermott's call to bench Taylor for Peterman might have come out of the blue to some outside of Buffalo, the idea had been hotly debated around town since Peterman showed flashes of potential last preseason and in leading the Bills on a touchdown drive late during a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints a week prior to starting in Los Angeles.
McDermott faced pressure from some segments of the fan base in turning to Peterman last year, much like some Bills fans will be upset Allen is not the opening-day starter after he wowed fans with his arm strength and pocket presence at times this preseason.
But overall, Allen's body of work from spring practices through the preseason was not nearly as consistent as Peterman's. Throwing Allen into the fire during a road-heavy first-half schedule and behind an offensive line that allowed Allen to be sacked five times during his lone preseason start Aug. 26 would be a recipe for trouble and, perhaps, grumbling in the locker room.
Like last season, the Bills have one of the oldest opening-day rosters in the NFL. Even though some consider Buffalo to be in rebuilding mode, the reality is the team made the playoffs last season and owes it to veterans such as defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander to do their best to get back to the postseason.
Allen clearly has a higher ceiling than Peterman, and if the Bills are going to eventually become Super Bowl contenders, it probably will be with Allen and not Peterman under center. But the floor for Allen, especially as a rookie making the jump from Wyoming to the NFL, is lower than that of Peterman.
If McDermott started Allen to begin this season and was forced to bench him to satisfy a cultural need around the team to win and not simply develop for the future, it would be difficult to turn back to Allen.
Since 2007, no quarterback selected in the first round has ever recovered from being benched to again become a full-time starter.