The 2018 NFL Draft was overflowing with high-regarded quarterbacks, but two in particular were the most polarizing.
Lamar Jackson had an electric dual-threat style that won the Heisman Trophy, but people questioned whether "Lamar football" would transfer to the NFL.
Josh Allen had a rocket launcher for an arm, but scouts and analysts wondered whether he'd ever be able to point it straight after completing 56% of his passes his final two years at Wyoming.
Fast forward four years and both quarterbacks are, without a shadow of doubt, the two standouts from their quarterback class. Allen was drafted seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills, after Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Jackson went No. 32 to the Ravens, behind the others and Josh Rosen.
Jackson and Allen weren't the most "polished" quarterbacks, at least by traditional evaluations, but they now sit as two of the top QBs in the league. Their shared journey isn't lost on either one of them as they approach Sunday's tilt at M&T Bank Stadium.
"There was a lot of different notions and opinions about both of us coming out of the draft," Allen said. "We're just trying to find ways to help our team win football games and he does it as good as anybody in the league."
Jackson and Allen have both led their teams to the postseason, but both are still hungry to reach (and win) the Super Bowl. This could be the year, as both are off to extremely hot starts.
Jackson leads the league in touchdowns with 12 overall, including a league-high 10 passing. Allen is right behind him with nine touchdowns. Each player leads their team in rushing yards (Jackson has 243 and Allen has 113).
Jackson and Allen are the only two players in NFL history to reach both nine touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards over the first three games of a season.
"He's won an MVP, and he's playing at an MVP level right now," Allen said. "Given all the drama and the details that are going on with all that contract situation that he's got going on, he's just like I'm gonna bet on myself and I'm pretty sure it's gonna pay off."
Told that Allen said he should be the highest-paid player in the league, Jackson chuckled.
"I don't know," Jackson said. "It's cool. I appreciate him saying that, though. I feel the same way about him.
"Very mutual respect between one another, but he's in Buffalo and I'm over here in Baltimore, so there can't be any hanging out and stuff like that. But when we see each other, we show respect amongst each other."
Jackson and Allen made their NFL debuts the same rainy day in the 2018 season opener. Allen entered in relief of Nathan Peterman. Jackson entered in relief of Joe Flacco after Baltimore had built a massive lead.
"It was different from college – a lot different. That's what I remember," Jackson said.
Jackson and Allen have squared off twice as starters. In 2019, Jackson prevailed in Buffalo, 24-17, with three touchdown passes. In the 2020 playoffs, in a game drastically affected by a high wind, Allen and the Bills came out on top, 17-3, after Jackson was knocked out of the game in the second half.
"They kept getting us off the field fast," Jackson remembered. "We had some drives [that we] wish we could have finished, but they were just doing a good job of getting us off the field."
Now it's time for a third showdown, and this one features two quarterbacks playing the position about as well as it can be. Sunday's game is a treat for NFL fans, and the quarterbacks in the middle of it expect to have some fun too.
"He's an extremely hard worker, as am I. Guys respect him and how he plays the game of football," Allen said. "He has a lot of fun doing it and I have a lot of fun doing it. He's playing as good as anyone in the league right now."