Regardless of his Central California roots, there’s no middle ground on Josh Allen.
With Allen’s prototypical size, arm strength and mobility, the Firebaugh native is either a franchise NFL quarterback in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz – making him well worth a top-10 draft pick or perhaps even No. 1 overall.
Or he’s an overhyped, scatter-armed pretender whose statistical profile during his two full seasons at Wyoming foretell a colossal bust.
Those are the only two permissible opinions on Allen. You either love him as an NFL prospect, or you hate him. There’s plenty of room for debate, but only if it expresses the polar extremes.
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Don’t expect that to change this week in Mobile, Ala., as NFL hopefuls, coaches, scouts and draftniks gather for the annual Senior Bowl. Allen will be on the North team for Saturday’s game, but the more important stuff occurs during the three practices and week of meetings/interviews leading up to the nationally televised showcase.
Unlike other college all-star games, the Senior Bowl involves NFL coaches. Allen’s North team is coached by the Denver Broncos, a quarterback-needy franchise that happens to own the No. 5 pick in the April draft. Then again, two teams picking ahead of Denver (the 0-16 disaster known as the Cleveland Browns, at Nos. 1 and 4; and the New York Giants with 37-year-old Eli Manning, at No. 2) are just as needy.
Broncos general manager John Elway also scouted Allen from the sideline at last month’s Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho. Something Allen himself didn’t fail to notice.
“It’s fun to look over there and see a guy with as great a stature as John Elway,” Allen said during a Monday news conference. “It’s really cool that he went to one of my games.”
What makes Allen the most divisive prospect in Mobile, Ala., is the dichotomy between the obvious physical gifts and cold, hard data.
What makes Allen the most divisive prospect in Mobile, and perhaps the entire draft, is the dichotomy between the obvious physical gifts and cold, hard data compiled against competition that isn’t top-flight per FBS standards.
Allen measured 6 feet, 4⅞ inches Tuesday and weighed 237 pounds. Tall enough to see over the rush and beefy enough to take a pounding. His 10⅛-inch hand size speaks well of being able to grip a football in cold weather.
On the practice field, Allen displayed the natural throwing motion and incredible arm strength he’s known for. Allen is extremely mobile and agile for someone his size and has a knack for turning broken plays into “SportsCenter” highlights.
Then there are the intangibles. As someone who has spoken with Allen multiple times, both one on one and in group settings, I can assure you he’ll ace the team interviews. The 21-year-old is intelligent, engaging and gives off a sense of self-assurance without veering into cockiness.
In an age when college football players routinely skip bowl games to prepare for the draft, Allen returned from a shoulder injury that cost him two games so he could quarterback Wyoming one last time. NFL coaches and decision-makers take note of that stuff.
And yet Allen boasts as many doubters and detractors as he does proponents such as ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, whose initial mock draft has the Browns taking Allen with the No. 1 overall pick.
Why is that? Mainly, it boils down to statistics and one in particular: Allen’s career .562 completion percentage.
He’s got the physical capability to do the job in the weather conditions like Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz, quarterbacks he’ll be compared to with that size, physicality, arm strength, mobility and toughness.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, on Josh Allen
In the eyes of many talent evaluators, both the paid and armchair variety, those numbers are pretty damning. What do I mean by that? Here are the best NFL quarterbacks (since 2000) I could dredge up who never completed 60 percent of his passes in a college season: Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, Shaun Hill and Brian Hoyer.
Next, here’s a list of current and former NFL quarterbacks with college completion rates below 57 percent (and at least 600 attempts): Jake Locker, Kyle Boller, Derek Anderson, Christian Hackenberg, Andrew Walter, Tom Savage and Joey Harrington.
Mostly, it’s a collection of first-round busts.
Just because those guys failed doesn’t mean Allen will, too. But he’d have to prove the exception to the rule.
Considering the enormity of Allen’s physical gifts, as well as mental strengths, it’s an excellent bet some NFL coach and general manager will convince themselves they’re the ones to facilitate that exception. Which is the kind of thinking that sometimes results in Super Bowl parades, but more often in coach and GM firings.
For his part, Allen insists he’s “way more accurate” than the numbers show.
“That’s what I’m cleaning up in this offseason, to show everybody come practice time that I’ve been working on that and the key to my accuracy is making sure my feet are set right and just trying to have a more polished throwing motion, a more polished stroke,” he said.
“When my feet are right, but hips are allowed to open a little better, and that’s kind of where your accuracy comes from. Getting out there in front of all the scouts and GMs at practice is going to show that.”
The national debate over Firebaugh’s favorite son is only beginning.