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Brandon Allen has earned the right to be Joe Burrow’s backup

The former sixth round pick was just hitting his stride before the 2020 season came to a close.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one player who wanted a 17th game in 2020, it was Bengals’ backup quarterback Brandon Allen.

After being a journeyman for four seasons, the former sixth-round pick solidified his role on a team for the first time late in 2020 and is now the clear backup to quarterback Joe Burrow heading into training camp.

From Jacksonville to Los Angeles to Denver to Cincinnati, Allen has been on the fringes of NFL rosters his entire career. He did start three games for the Denver Broncos in 2019, but that was only after injuries to Drew Lock and Joe Flacco.

Last year, Allen began on the practice squad, taking his reps with the players on the back end of the roster. He was suddenly thrust into the starting role against the New York Giants in Week 12 and struggled. But he began to find his rhythm two weeks later against the Dallas Cowboys and then utterly dominated the Houston Texans in Week 16. As a result, he earned the right to the number two spot on the roster.

Brandon Allen

Height: 6’ 2”

Weight: 209 lbs

Age: 28

College: Arkansas

Hometown: Fayetteville, AR

Experience: fifth season

Cap Status

Allen just signed a one-year deal this offseason worth up to $1.5 million. The majority of that is salary-based, so his dead money is only worth $300,000. If he is active for all 16 games, though, the total $1.5 million would be reflected in his cap hit.


Allen was the Jaguars’ 201st pick in the 2016 Draft. He backed up Blake Bortles for a year before the Jaguars waived him in September of 2017. The Rams picked him up, and he spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons in Los Angeles under Zac Taylor.

After a number of Denver quarterbacks suffered injuries, Allen would get his first start in 2019. He had a record of 1-2 in Denver, completing only 46.4% of his passes and earning a quarterback rating of 68.3.

The Bengals signed him to the practice squad in 2020 and then promoted him to the active roster the week after Burrow’s injury. Allen was chosen to make his first start of the year even though the number two quarterback, Ryan Finley, was healthy.

In his first two games, Allen was shaky. He threw for a combined 289 yards and two touchdowns while getting intercepted twice and sacked seven times in games against the Giants and Miami Dolphins. The Bengals scored just 24 points scored on offense over that stretch.

Finally, in Week 14 against the Cowboys, Allen began to feel comfortable in the offense, though he was unable to finish that game due to injury. When he returned from injury, he torched the Texans with 371 yards, completing 78.4% of his passes, and tossing two touchdowns to no interceptions.

In the offseason, he signed the largest contract of his career, an indication that he has the role of being Burrow’s backup locked up.

Outlook for 2021

Allen probably will not be a full-time NFL starter, but he can be a solid backup. He can’t do everything Burrow can, but if the team plays well around him, he can do enough to run the offense in the starter’s absence. Sometimes, all you need your backup to do is just not lose the game, and Allen has the ability fill that role.

The Bengal’s traded Finley, who went out in a blaze of Monday Night glory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, to the Texans in March. The only quarterbacks that Allen will compete against are Eric Dungey and Kyle Shurmur. It would be a major surprise if one of those second-year players supplants Allen.

Roster Odds:

90%. Last season, the Bengals saw first-hand how important a solid backup quarterback is. Allen just started getting a grip on the system at the end of the year, so getting snaps in training camp and during the season as the QB2—rather than the practice squad quarterback—will only help him develop. Dungey or Shurmur would have to have spectacular training camps in order to take that job from Allen.