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Josh Allen’s level of college competition shows his NFL future is still a big risk

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Wyoming’s passing game rarely excelled against top opponents.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen has spent months as a top prospect. Allen’s is a weird case, though. He was only an FBS starter for two years, and he didn’t put up great numbers in either. Allen’s career line at Wyoming: a 56.2 completion rate, 7.8 yards per attempt, 44 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, and a mediocre 137.7 rating.

Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield won the last two Heisman Trophies. Sam Darnold had a 153.7 rating with 57 touchdowns in two seasons. Mason Rudolph had a 159.7 rating and threw 86 touchdowns in his three years as a starter. Josh Rosen was often injured for a bad UCLA, but entered college as a five-star and had some great games.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. says “stats are for losers” and thinks Allen should be a high pick because “the kid won.” Even if you’re someone who invests deeply in college QB win-loss records, Wyoming was just 15-9 against FBS teams when Allen started. And the Cowboys’ solid defense often had more to do with their success than quarterback play.

A common defense of Allen is Wyoming wasn’t talented, while other top QBs had more around them.

That’s a fair point, even though Allen was also playing against less talented players than the other top quarterback prospects in this draft were.

In 2017, Wyoming had the second-worst roster in the Mountain West, according to the recruiting ratings of the Cowboys’ players. Wyoming is a hard place to recruit:

You have to want to love Wyoming. Those who do require no explanation for surviving there. To those who don’t, no reason to do so will suffice. That’s a romantic notion, albeit a horrific recruiting pitch to college football players.

”It’s not for everyone,” one grad advises.

Further, Allen lost some of his best weapons between his sophomore and junior seasons. He didn’t bring back any of his top three receivers, and both his star running back and starting center were draft picks.

Those probably had something to do with Allen’s junior passer rating falling from 144.9 to 127.8 and him losing nearly 2 yards off his average attempt.

Still, Allen’s opponents faced much harder competition.

In 2017, schedule strength was one good reason for drafting Deshaun Watson. Wyoming’s strength of schedule in 2017 was No. 95 in the 130-team FBS, according to Sports-Reference. Power-conference QBs Darnold, Rosen, Jackson, and Mayfield faced top-45 schedules.

  • In 2017, Allen played two Power 5 opponents. He completed 50 percent of his passes for no touchdowns and three interceptions, averaging 3.7 yards per attempt with a 119 rating, in losses to Iowa and Oregon.
  • The year before, he threw one touchdown and five picks in a loss to Nebraska, his only other Power 5 opponent.
  • Against conference rulers Boise State and San Diego State, he had one decent game against each, but also one rough game against each.
  • His best starts ever were against Utah State (another team in the MWC that isn’t exactly Boise State) and FCS UC Davis.

In Passing S&P+, Bill Connelly’s advanced stat that adjusts for opponent strength, Wyoming’s 2017 passing game ranked 119th, second-worst in the MWC. Mayfield’s Oklahoma finished first, Darnold’s USC 11th, Jackson’s Louisville 12th, Rudolph’s OSU 15th, and Rosen’s UCLA 27th.

It’s a point in Allen’s favor that Wyoming didn’t have much talent, even by Mountain West standards. But a first-round QB could’ve done more to bridge that gap, right?

Compare Allen’s college numbers to previous non-power quarterbacks, and you’ll come away concerned.

Since 2000, NFL teams have drafted 11 quarterbacks from non-power conferences in the first round. Some turned out great, like Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. Some were in the middle, like Joe Flacco and Chad Pennington. And some were just bad in the NFL, flaming out quickly.

How Josh Allen compares to previous 1st-round QBs from non-power conferences

Year Player College rating College yards/throw
Year Player College rating College yards/throw
2000 Chad Pennington (Marshall) 157.6 8.6
2002 Patrick Ramsey (Tulane) 126.0 6.8
2002 David Carr (Fresno State) 151.2 8.3
2003 Byron Leftwich (Marshall) 150.9 8.3
2004 J.P. Losman (Tulane) 129.8 6.8
2004 Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, OH) 151.3 8.3
2005 Alex Smith (Utah) 164.4 8.9
2008 Joe Flacco (Delaware) 137.8 7.5
2014 Blake Bortles (UCF) 153.8 8.5
2016 Paxton Lynch (Memphis) 137.0 7.4
2016 Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) 153.9 8.4
2018 Josh Allen? (Wyoming) 137.7 7.8
Sports-Reference

Allen was better in college than the two Tulane quarterbacks who went in the first round way back when. He was slightly better than Paxton Lynch, who looks like a bust after two years of not playing for the Broncos. And he was comparable to Flacco, whose numbers came against FCS-level opponents. It’s also fair to note several of these QBs had more talented teammates than Allen did.

Could Allen overcome all that and be an NFL star? Sure.

Allen has great size and clearly has arm talent, but think hard before betting on him over any of the guys who’ve already proved it against good defenses.