No quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft inspires a wider range of opinions than Wyoming’s Josh Allen. The Bills are hoping he’ll turn out to be the No. 1 quarterback Mel Kiper thinks he is — and not the middling passer his college stats suggest.
Allen also raised concerns leading up to the draft thanks to a handful of racist tweets made back when he was a high schooler. He soon apologized for the tweets.
Allen earned the Kiper’s approval thanks to his 6’5 frame, ideal NFL mechanics and strong combine and pro day workouts. That was enough to force longtime ESPN analyst into a tailspin of nonsensical quotes boosting the former Cowboys signal caller.
Mel Kiper Jr. asked about Josh Allen's completion percentage: "Stats are for losers in my opinion. The guy won."— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) January 18, 2018
Mel Kiper, just now, on a conference call talking about Josh Allen: "Completion percentage doesn't matter anymore."— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) March 28, 2018
Allen led Wyoming to a 16-9 record in his starts, comprising the program’s most successful two-year run since the late 1980s. He beat Mountain West standbys Boise State once and Utah State twice.
He also lost games to UNLV and Eastern Michigan. He completed 56 percent of his passes and threw for 300-plus yards only once against an FBS opponent. But he looked like an NFL quarterback in losses, and now he’s a Bill.
So how did a quarterback who completed just 56 percent of his college passes wind up a top 10 pick?
Allen looks every bit a prototype NFL quarterback. At 6’5, he’s tall enough to stare over pass rushers and sling the ball past the outstretched fingertips of defensive linemen. At 237 pounds, he’s strong enough to withstand arm tackles and keep his balance in the pocket. He’s got the hand size (10 1/8 inches) that scouts salivate over. With a 4.75-second 40-yard dash speed, he’s fast enough to keep defenses honest on the ground — he rushed for 12 touchdowns in 25 games the past two seasons.
His biggest selling point is a cannon arm that can whip the ball to either sideline and torch cornerbacks trying futilely to cover deep out routes. His quick release shoots lasers upfield, and that strength should benefit him even more when bolstered by the precise routes of NFL receivers rather than an underwhelming cast at Wyoming. When he’s on point, his deep ball is a thing of beauty, a brown rainbow tailor-made for a speedy wideout to run under and into the end zone.
While his delivery isn’t always perfect, the idea that the things you can’t coach — speed, size, ludicrous arm strength — are all traits he has in abundance makes him a tantalizing prospect. All the clay is there, the right NFL team just needs to mold it into shape. The success of Carson Wentz, more successful as a QB but against a lower lever of competition and with similar impressive measurables, has left a blueprint for Sean McDermott to follow.
Why could Allen be an NFL bust?
Prototypical build and arm aside, Allen presents plenty of caveats that damper the excitement around his selection. The fact NFL.com’s top comparison for him is Jake Locker — another athletic passer whose hype exceeded his college production — is concerning.
Locker made just 23 starts over four seasons with the Titans and completed only 57.5 percent of his passes before retiring early thanks in part to hip injuries. While it’s possible he was misused on a woeful Tennessee team to start his career, he never cleared up the accuracy issues that dogged him throughout college. The sturdy, athletic, big-armed passer went 9-14 as a starter and had a 5:7 TD:INT ratio in his final season in the league.
If that turns out to be Allen’s NFL doppelganger, the Bills are screwed.
While Patrick Mahomes was able to ride his ridiculous arm strength to a top-10 pick last year for the Chiefs, he also threw for more than 9,700 yards and 77 touchdowns in his two seasons as Texas Tech’s starter. While that was for an Air Raid offense predicated on slinging the ball with impunity, Allen’s resume just doesn’t hold up — and now the Bills have placed a higher draft value on the young Wyoming product.
And you can’t ignore Allen’s background. While he helped push the Cowboys to new heights, his status as a big fish in a relatively small pond makes him a volatile asset. Will he improve with NFL receivers to throw to and blockers protecting him? Or will the quarterback who threw seven interceptions in two games against Power 5 competition stand out as Allen’s NFL self?
If it’s the former, that’s a big win for the Bills— and a loss for math.