BOISE, Idaho -- This year's collection of top college quarterbacks was expected to produce a bonanza of talent for NFL teams in desperate need of a QB1. Wyoming QB Josh Allen was billed as one of the crown jewels of the class, given the strength of his impressive physical tools and his unlimited upside.
However, NFL scouts were so smitten with Allen's skills entering the season that several evaluators expected him to headline the group as the No. 1 player on the list for NFL teams. With that in mind, I spent most of the fall tracking his play and I was disappointed that I didn't see him take the next step in his development as a franchise player. Allen didn't play well in big games and his inconsistencies as a thrower led me to question his merits as a potential top-10 prospect.
That's why I had to make the trip to Boise on Friday to see if I could get a better feel for Allen's talent and potential. Here are four takeaways after watching him in person against CMU.
1. Allen has all of the tools to be a franchise quarterback as a pro.
Scouts are always hunting for the prototypical quarterback with ideal physical dimensions and spectacular arm talent. Allen checks off all of the boxes as a 6-foot-5, 240-pound (school measurements) flamethrower with exceptional movement skills and a live arm. He is arguably the most talented passer in college football when it comes to his ability to throw with zip, velocity, touch, and range from a stationary position or on the move. There isn't a throw in the book that he can't make and that unlimited range makes him an offensive coordinator's dream at the position.
Whether it's making "pick-and-stick" throws off catch, rock and fire action or throwing darts on "drive throws", Allen fires lasers to his receivers on the perimeter. He complements those short and intermediate throws with high-arcing rainbows on vertical throws that fall perfectly over his designated receiver's inside or outside shoulder.
Against Central Michigan, Allen dazzled the football world with an extraordinary passing exhibition that teased every scout in attendance. The Wyoming star completed six of his first seven passes for 104 yards with three scores. He finished the day 11-of-19 for 154 yards and the 3 scores, earning game MVP honors. He showcased the full repertoire in the first quarter, as he peppered the defense with a variety of short throws before dropping a dime on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jared Scott and a 45-yard teardrop to C.J. Johnson for another score. In between those highlight throws, he showcased his nifty playmaking skills on an 11-yard scramble toss to Austin Conway.
Allen's first-quarter performance was scintillating and it undoubtedly left scouts salivating over his potential as a QB1 at the next level. Evaluators will envision Allen expanding his game with quality coaching and a better supporting cast on the perimeter. With that in mind, it's easy to see how scouts and coaches will fall in love with Allen despite the inconsistencies and flaws that pop up in his game.
2. Allen is still a work in progress as a QB1.
There's little doubt that Allen will earn top grades from scouts based on his physical tools alone, but he really should be viewed as a developmental prospect at the position. He's far from a polished player in the pocket, as evidenced by his questionable poise and discipline on the overwhelming majority of his dropbacks. He doesn't appear to have a great feel for pass rushers around him and his lack of feel results in too many avoidable sacks.
While Allen doesn't play behind a great offensive line, the majority of sacks that he takes are due to his reluctance to let the ball go when he reaches the top of his drop. If he would simply throw the ball when he hits his last step, the Cowboys wouldn't take as many negative plays.
Allen's lack of discipline also shows up when he runs out of the pocket without a threat of a rush. He will routinely flee the pocket unnecessarily and his random forays as a runner lead to extra hits from defenders. Granted, Allen has the size to withstand most blows on the collegiate level, but he can't survive in the NFL taking unnecessary shots from ultra-athletic pass rushers on impromptu runs that could be avoided with better pocket discipline and awareness.
From an accuracy standpoint, Allen needs to work on his deep-ball touch and placement. While it didn't show up in game action on Friday, he missed enough vertical throws in warm-ups to raise concerns about his ability to keep the ball on the playing field. Now, some of his misfires might be attributed to his injured shoulder (he missed the last two games of the regular season with a sprained AC joint) but his accuracy issues should be a major concern for anyone who has studied his game.
3. Allen will create a lot of "Potential vs. Production" debates in meeting rooms across the league.
After watching four quarters of Allen against decent competition on Friday, I believe he will be one of the most debated prospects during the pre-draft process. For all of his physical tools and splashy plays, Allen is an inconsistent playmaker with a number of warts on his game. He has accuracy and pocket-awareness issues that could lead to serious struggles at the next level. While there have been some quarterbacks who have worked around those issues as pros, the majority of NFL players are exactly what they were as collegians.
Thus, scouts will need to decide if Allen can ever reach his potential, even though he has a set of tools that should make him an elite player in time. As a two-year starter with a completion rate around 56 percent, it's hard to envision him ever becoming the efficient passer that some coaches covet in a QB1.
That said, it's hard to find quarterbacks of his stature with a big arm and A-plus movement skills, which is why some scouts will fight tooth and nail to keep Allen at the top of the board despite his pedestrian numbers.
4. The best pro comparison for Allen ...
After watching Allen in person, it's easy to see why the Ben Roethlisberger comparison has been thrown out by scouts across the league. He is big, athletic and physical with a gunslinger's mentality at the position. While those traits certainly evoke images of Roethlisberger, I believe Allen best compares to a more dynamic version of Blake Bortles.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' QB1 has been the ultimate tease at the position for four seasons, exhibiting a mix of spectacular talent and questionable decisions. I see Allen in the same light as a talented playmaker with unrealized potential. He might eventually develop into a star at the position, but he could very well be the same player that he's always been at Wyoming -- an ultra-talented passer with an unpolished game.