2018 NFL Draft preseason evaluations: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 21: Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys passes the ball during the first half of the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 21, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 21: Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys passes the ball during the first half of the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 21, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Josh Allen is one of several 2018 NFL Draft quarterback prospects who could hear his name called in the first round of the draft, but how does he keep his stock high?

When watching Josh Allen’s film from the 2016 college football season, it is abundantly clear that he possesses the best arm talent in the class. Allen’s arm strength leaps off the screen, and it makes him one of the most exciting quarterback prospects to watch in the 2018 NFL Draft class. It allows him to fit the ball into windows that most other quarterbacks could only dream, and his arm strength also enables him to throw the ball out of bounds in situations where most passers would have to take the sack.

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Allen is viewed as one of the top quarterbacks in the class, and several analysts rank him second to only Sam Darnold, who appears to be the consensus first overall pick in 2018 at this early point in the evaluation process. Tall quarterbacks with strong arms tend to receive plaudits, and Allen has the added benefit of being quite mobile.

Although Allen was rarely under pressure at Wyoming, he deserves credit for doing an exceptional job of avoiding pressure. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country at climbing the pocket in the face of edge rushers. The first-round hopeful, however, can be too anxious at times, flushing himself out of the pocket (almost exclusively to his right). Allen can make truly spectacular throws when on the run, such as his clutch fourth quarter touchdown toss against Boise State on third-and-13, but leaving the pocket too early restricts his options.

Without a doubt, Allen’s arm strength is his greatest asset, and he is absolutely lethal on throws up the seam, particularly when targeting tight end Jacob Hollister (currently with the New England Patriots). He’s at his most accurate when targeting pass-catchers in one-on-one situations, as he places the ball where only the receiver can get it. There are several instances of him targeting senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry in contested situations in which his throws are accurate enough to defeat “perfect” coverage.

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There’s plenty to like about Allen’s ability to make “wow” throws, but it’s his accuracy on simpler passes that must be criticized. Though he’s more accurate than fellow potential first-round prospect Josh Rosen, he is also inconsistent. Allen will frustratingly miss open wide receivers, and he threw a few interceptions as a result of tossing the ball behind his wide receiver. He fails to lead his receivers into favorable positions after the catch, so they will be forced to absorb tough hits.

Having tremendous arm talent is certainly a beneficial trait, but it’s important not to become too smitten with arm strength as a trait. Allen is one of those quarterbacks who could benefit from learning how to anticipate intermediate throws, in addition to learning how to make “touch” throws. When he does attempt passes that contain less zip on the ball, he will often “lollipop” the pass, leading to an incompletion or near-interception.

An astute quarterback in the pocket, Allen is more pro-ready when it comes to making reads than most small-school quarterbacks. He will occasionally lock onto one receiver for too long, but he usually does an excellent job of progressing through his reads. When a passing lane is suddenly blocked, Allen will pump fake, look to the other side of the field, and make the play. Unlike some of his peers in this class, Allen has no issues with pulling the trigger on passes, and I wonder if that’s because he’s so confident in his ability to fit the ball into any window due to his elite arm strength.

When it comes to Allen’s mobility, there can be little question that he is capable of moving the chains with his legs. I would like to see him slide more frequently, because he leaves himself vulnerable to big hits. Allen only sparingly runs to the sideline, and he needs to stop risking his health for a few extra yards. His toughness is as admirable as Rosen’s, but any team would be better off with Allen at full health.

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I can see why some analysts are willing to praise Allen heavily, because his arm talent is exceptional. Additionally, he rarely makes poor decisions, navigates the pocket well, and makes smart reads. With Allen, my concerns are related to how his skills translate to the pro level.

The passes he makes down the field into tight coverage are nice, but he must do a better job of hitting the shorter passes that move the chains. He’s more likely to force the ball into a tight window, as opposed to waiting for his wide receiver to get open. His arm strength prevents him from throwing a ghastly amount of interceptions (defenders cannot react quickly enough), but the stats show that he completed just 56.0 percent of his passes with 15 picks in 2016.

While Allen deserves to be in the first-round conversation on the strength of his arm and the other positive traits described here, he might not be worth actually rolling the dice on. Allen’s skills don’t really translate to the NFL level, because he misses the types of throws that he would be asked to make in the pros.

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Again, I can’t understate the fact that accuracy and anticipation are two crucial traits for quarterbacks, and Allen is lacking in both. He’s an interesting and impressive prospect, and he is more than just size and arm strength. As I said before, Allen can climb the pocket, throw on the run, and survey his pass-catching options well. However, until he becomes more accurate and gets a better feel for timing and ball placement, NFL projections should be tempered.