The Buffalo Bills may have found their starting quarterback, and it's not AJ McCarron or seventh overall pick Josh Allen. Nathan Peterman, whom the organization drafted in last year's fifth round, is ascending the depth chart like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Peterman's career didn't die when he threw five first-half interceptions in his first professional start—a painful display to watch against the Los Angeles Chargers from a rookie thrust into the lineup because the Bills coaching staff couldn't reconcile Tyrod Taylor's skill set with its preferred offensive scheme.
A rebirth occurred this offseason. Self-doubt didn't overtake Peterman after one poor performance. Instead, he used it as a source of motivation.
The second-year signal-caller's drive has propelled him into a legitimate contender for the starting spot.
"We have some good backups and guys competing for starting jobs," LeSean McCoy said, per the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Sal Maiorana. "It's what the NFL is all about. I mean, who was Tom Brady before Tom Brady? He got an opportunity, [and] he made the best of it. Everybody has an opportunity."
The six-time Pro Bowl running back was talking about the team's offensive line, but his train of thought is applicable to every position, including quarterback. Allen, of course, will take over eventually. Right now, the starting job is up for grabs as head coach Sean McDermott searches for the most reliable option.
"Josh is going to continue with the third group like he's done before," McDermott said, per Bills Wire's Kyle Silagyi. "What we'll do, periodically, is give Josh some reps with the ones. That's all part of his development plan, and really a chance for us to evaluate our entire roster, as well, from top to bottom. He'll still work with the threes by and large, and Nate [Peterman] and AJ [McCarron] will continue with the ones and twos there, but we'll throw Josh in from time to time moving forward."
Allen's raw physical tools are mesmerizing. His arm talent is special and allows him to make every throw with ease. But playing the quarterback position requires far more than the ability to rip the pigskin. The 22-year-old rookie is still learning to harness his prodigious natural ability. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though. Allen projected as a work in progress with immense upside yet significant downside.
McDermott and Co. have stressed the organization's "plan" for his development—which seems to include not playing him too soon. As a result, Peterman's scheme fit, preparedness and on-field performance have provided him with an opportunity to become the Bills' Week 1 starter.
At the forefront of the Bills' quarterback search, the franchise wants those who fit a certain profile. Taylor didn't. Allen, McCarron and Peterman do. The organization prefers a quarterback who can win from the pocket.
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll isn't going to use many spread principles when it comes to his current crop.
"[My offense] is different every year," Daboll explained, per Bills Wire's Jeremy Juhasz. "Again, it will constantly change based on what we think our players do best."
General manager Brandon Beane acknowledged the team preferred Allen as its quarterback of the future because of his experience playing under Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen in a pro-style system, not just because of his physical tools.
"I think the pro style helps," Beane said, per WGR 550 Sports Radio's Sal Capaccio. "Some guys come in here and they haven't taken a snap from under center. He's done that, he's called plays, he's made checks, he's been in the gun, he's done the RPO (run/pass option) stuff before. He's done a lot, even though he was playing at a smaller level, similar to Carson Wentz. He makes plays from the pocket."
The above description doesn't just apply to Allen. Both Peterman and McCarron played in pro-style schemes at the collegiate level.
All three are on an even playing field with Daboll being hired this offseason. A year or more as a backup provides some confidence, especially for a young quarterback like Peterman. McCarron is just looking for a chance to start. He's competing with a second-year player who has just enough knowledge to be dangerous yet doesn't know what his potential is. Neither is as gifted as Allen, but both have enough ability to develop into starters.
Where one can separate himself is by the quickness in which he absorbs the new offense and translates what he's learned onto the field.
The early indications from organized team activities and the initial minicamp are that Peterman is much-improved. He's outplayed McCarron to date, according to WKBW Buffalo's Joe Buscaglia. This isn't just one on-site observer's opinion, either. ESPN.com's Mike Rodak named Peterman the Bills' offseason standout. Capaccio echoed the sentiment with a slightly stronger conclusion:
Sal Capaccio 🏈 @SalSports
This is based mostly on how I've seen QBs handled at minicamp, what I believe org's philosophy is, and minicamp performance. This is going to move a lot once camp starts, obviously, but if u think Peterman doesn't have legit shot (regardless of my %), ur wrong. He absolutely does
The Bills don't need a world-beater at quarterback. A mistake-free facilitator is an ideal starter based on the team's construction. Ironically, Taylor was that player. But he didn't consistently win from the pocket as an efficient passer in the short-to-intermediate ranges. That's where the coaching staff is looking for improvement. Otherwise, the Bills will continue to ride a strong ground game featuring McCoy, Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet and Taiwan Jones.
"We're going to run the ball, for sure," McCoy said, per Silagyi. "You'll see a lot of similarities from us and the Patriots, because that's where [Daboll] comes from. ... He's always looking for matchups."
Peterman displays the qualities the Bills want in the quarterback position. This is the exact reason he received last year's ill-fated start. But one poor performance won't deter the team from playing him if he earns the position. And he is earning it.
"Something about that kid is he never lets it get to him," former Pitt teammate Brian O'Neill said of Peterman, per NYUp.com's Matthew Fairburn. "He's a tough-minded, strong kid."
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.