Four years ago, not a single FBS school offered Josh Allen a scholarship, but now some are calling him the best quarterback prospect since Cam Newton.
By Jeffri Chadiha | Published Aug. 30, 2017
After all the praying, all the worrying and the constant dread of what might happen next in a whirlwind year, LaVonne Allen walked into the bedroom of her second-oldest child just over a year ago and waited for some reassuring news. It was there that she found her son, Josh, sitting in the dark, calmly reconsidering the most important decision of his life. Only two nights earlier, the Wyoming quarterback had told his family he was leaving school early to enter the NFL draft. He had delivered the news while surrounded by loved ones inside a Mexican restaurant near his hometown of Firebaugh, Calif., giddily dreaming about a bright future while his mother instinctively hid her concern.
Josh and his parents already had watched the College Football Playoff National Championship with high-profile agent Tom Condon sitting in their living room, a move that suggested how close Josh was to finding representation, as well as how high his stock had soared. Allen also had packed his bags for a trip to San Diego, where he would train with other draft prospects, including North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky and Iowa's C.J. Beathard, before attending the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The more LaVonne watched all this unfold, the more she felt a haunting sensation gnawing at her soul. She kept telling herself this was all happening way too fast -- Josh had only spent one full year as the Cowboys' starter -- and she questioned if her son might pay a hefty price in the end.
That all changed the moment LaVonne ducked her head into that darkened room.
She knew that Josh, always regarded for his confidence and coolness, couldn't bring himself to break the news to Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen when the two had talked on the phone. There also was the fact that LaVonne and her husband, Joel, had raised Josh to be a man of his word and to reward loyalty. Wyoming had been the only FBS school to offer him a full scholarship. You'd better believe that meant plenty in their minds, as well.
When Josh turned to face his mother, she sensed all these factors were weighing on what would ultimately be her son's change of heart. She asked if he was OK with staying in school, and Josh nodded before saying, "I can't do this without you and dad. We're in this together." That's when something happened that, to this day, LaVonne knows was the most important sign in that entire process. For all the alleviation she experienced, she saw even more coming from a 20-year-old who was being touted as an elite quarterback prospect -- a potential first-round draft pick -- despite his lack of experience.
"When Josh said he was staying in school, you could feel the relief coming off him," LaVonne said. "At that point, you could see he was a kid again."
The upcoming draft, by most people's measure, will be defined by quarterbacks. There's the last two Heisman Trophy winners (Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Louisville's Lamar Jackson), a pair of dart-throwers from Los Angeles (UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold), and an assortment of All-America types (Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Washington State's Luke Falk and Western Kentucky's Mike White). Even with all that star power, Allen might be the most intriguing NFL prospect of the bunch. He was the late bloomer who came from nowhere, the one who led a program that has rarely risen to national prominence and living a dream that could end with him being some team's franchise quarterback.
It would've been easy for Allen, a fourth-year junior who turned 21 last May, to enter last year's draft because the buzz was building so quickly. Instead, he chose the more mature route, one he hopes pays even bigger dividends in a few months.
It's not difficult to see what scouts like about him. At 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, he has a cannon for a right arm, impressive mobility and an attractive blend of intelligence, resilience and guts. Add in the fact he's been forced to fight for every last bit of respect he's received and there's a chip-on-the-shoulder dimension that will help him at the next level, as well. If you think that doesn't matter, just consider what being overlooked did for Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
In 2016, Allen threw for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. He also led Wyoming, a team that was picked to finish last in the Mountain West's Mountain Division, to an 8-6 record, a spot in the conference championship game and a berth in the school's first bowl game in five years. Last season, he led the Cowboys to an 8-5 record and a win over Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. However, his numbers were down.; he threw for 1,812 yards with 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
"I watched him when he was considering coming out," one NFL personnel director said before Wyoming kicked off its season vs. Iowa. "He's a talented passer with an elite arm, good size, toughness and competitiveness. But he also showed poor ball security, inconsistent mechanics and he needed to improve his accuracy. I didn't think he was ready."
Allen wanted to enjoy another successful season, but he also returned to school because of his faith in the preparation he would receive. After all, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl once discovered a raw, overlooked quarterback named Carson Wentz while at North Dakota State. Wentz, of course, became the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Eagles QB already has informed Allen about the benefits of his college offense -- "He told me it really trains you to be a quarterback in the NFL," Allen said -- and the Wyoming signal-caller is smart enough to see the success Wentz has enjoyed in Philadelphia. Unlike the spread systems that proliferate college football and ease the burdens on young field generals, the Cowboys' offense asks the quarterback to handle protection calls, checks at the line of scrimmage and other adjustments.