LARAMIE, Wyo. -- I spent Saturday afternoon watching Wyoming and its talented junior quarterback, Josh Allen, take on Texas State. Allen got off to a rough start this season, but he led the Cowboys to a 45-10 win over the Bobcats, completing 14 of 24 passes for 219 yards and a season-high 3 touchdowns.
Leading up to that contest, I spent the week studying all of Allen's game tape from the 2017 season. Here are 5 takeaways after doing my homework on the signal-caller who's been called the best QB prospect since Cam Newton.
1. Allen's production is down but it isn't all his fault. Some observers have suggested Allen's numbers are declining this season because the pressure of being a top-rated player is getting to him. After playing in relative anonymity in 2016, he has been in the spotlight this fall. He was rated as the sixth-best player in the college game in CFB 24/7's preseason rankings. However, his stat line has looked ugly in 3 of the first 5 games of this season (9-19 for 92 yards, TD vs. Hawaii; 9-24, 64 yards, 1 INT vs. Oregon; 23-40, 174 yards, 2 INTs at Iowa).
After studying the tape, I'd place more of the blame for his disappointing production on the talent (or lack thereof) surrounding Allen than on Allen himself. Wyoming lost several key players, including WRs, to the NFL last spring and their replacements have struggled to create separation and catch the ball. I pressed pause on the tape every time Allen would get to the top of his drop, and I struggled to locate options for him to place the football. There just isn't a lot of speed on the field around him.
There were numerous drops by Wyoming receivers in the first four games, but they did catch the ball consistently against Texas State on Saturday. They are starting to get healthier -- one of their top receivers returned last week -- and they expect their top tight end to return shortly. Hopefully, they can build off the success they had Saturday.
2. Allen needs to do a better job of protecting the football. While the drops by his receivers are a major issue, he needs to better secure the ball when he extends plays. Allen needs to learn when to simply give up on a play. He has such a unique ability to buy time with his legs and plenty of confidence in his arm to fit balls into tight windows, but there are times where it's necessary to throw the ball away or take a sack. This is a challenge for a lot of quarterbacks, and it's something he can overcome.
3. Allen's skill set is rare. Allen's arm strength and athletic ability jump off the tape, but you need to see him play live in order to fully appreciate it. I stood on the field during warmups Saturday and watched him effortlessly throw the ball into the back of the end zone from 60-plus yards out. The ball jumps out of his hand. He throws the deep out from the opposite hash as well as any quarterback I've ever scouted. The ball is flat and it gets there in a hurry. He also has the ability to make ridiculous throws on the move to both his right and left. I'd put his skill set (arm strength and athleticism) up against any quarterback in the NFL.
4. He'll be a difficult evaluation for NFL personnel departments. I've been in war-room meetings and I've participated in some intense debates about where to slot players on a draft board. I imagine there will be some spirited chats about Allen whenever he moves on to the next level. For those in his corner, you can sell his skill set and excuse his struggles by blaming them on his supporting cast. For those arguing against him, you can sell the numbers -- low completion percentage (55 percent), turnovers against top competition (TD-INT ratio of 1-8 in 3 career games vs. Power 5 teams), etc.
5. If the opportunity presents itself, Allen should play in the Reese's Senior Bowl. I'm not sure where Allen is in his progress toward earning a college degree, but if he can graduate this fall, it would be a no-brainer to participate in the annual all-star game, should he choose to enter the draft after this season and receive an invite to the game.
This has been a polarizing topic in the past. We had this discussion about Deshaun Watson last season. I thought he should've accepted the Senior Bowl invitation, but I understood his reasoning for declining to play. He had just finished a long season, culminating in an epic finish against Alabama in the title game.
Allen won't be in that same situation. While his Wyoming team will have a chance to earn a spot in a bowl game, he won't have another huge stage to play on this season. If he showed up at the Senior Bowl, he would have an opportunity to play against (and more importantly, with) some of the top players in the country. Every NFL team would see him up close and it's likely that one quarterback-needy team would get a chance to coach him for a week. I think that would be a perfect opportunity for him to make a strong closing argument about his worthiness of a high draft pick.
Bonus takeaway: I know a lot of folks have jumped off the Allen bandwagon due to his struggles this season, but I'm still on board. I've visited with him a couple times and I've come away very impressed with his maturity, passion and intelligence. He's going to impress teams when they get a chance to visit with him. He still has some areas to polish in his game before he's ready to take NFL snaps, but his upside is off the charts.