(Draft Guide) Josh Allen – Evidence to the Contrary

The ITP Draft Guide is not only a collection of scouting reports. Sure, it has profiles of 185 players, brought to you by the best, most qualified team of scouts following the most rigorous process in the business, but that’s not all. The guide also contains explanations of our process, a peek behind the curtain of our crosscheck discussions, interviews with prospects, a fantasy guide for your dynasty leagues, and essays on various draft topics. Last year the essays included a detailed calendar of how the year-round scouting process works (excerpted here) as well as several statistical and historical looks at the draft and NFL Combine by our own Jeff Feyerer. We’ve got more outstanding content in the 2018 guide, including this piece by Jeff, printed here in its entirety. If you enjoy it, there’s still time to preorder with code DRAFTME18 for $5 off. But act now, the guide will be full price as of April 1st.

Each draft season there is a posterboy for the contrast between statistical evaluation and film evaluation. In these cases, the numbers and tape don’t jive and the battle between the pro-numbers and pro-traditional scouting rages on until the bitter cacophony makes people wish the draft would just get here already. This year, that player is Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.

His arm is tantalizing for anyone that can appreciate how difficult it is to throw a football hard and far. The size is exactly what you look for in a quarterback. The athleticism make him a fit in any NFL offense. But his college production simply doesn’t appear even close to consistent enough to justify the talk he’s getting as a top selection.

Listen. Allen is probably an amazing guy and he’s better at football than I will ever be. But can we be serious for a second about his candidacy as a high first round selection. It seems like most of the pro-Allen talk centers around one of two things: that same “big” arm and the reason for his subpar numbers being the lack of talent around him.

For the time being we’ll ignore the fact guys with big arms have certainly failed before and players in lower tier conferences not only have below average teammates relative to Power Five conference teams, but also face worse competition. I want to look at Allen’s career, and others’, within two different lenses: his numbers as a whole during his final two seasons and his numbers against power conference competition.

For the first look, I pulled the completion percentage and adjusted passing yards per attempt (adjusted to account for touchdowns and interceptions) for each quarterback selected in the first round since 2000 and the top six candidates for that designation in 2018 – Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph – in their final two seasons as a starter in college. Some players like Cam Newton and Mitch Trubisky only had one season as a starter. I also left out Carson Wentz and Joe Flacco to keep only Football Bowl Subdivision players in the data set. Below are each one of those players charted with completion percentage on the x-axis and adjusted yards per attempt on the y-axis.

The data for completion percentage and adjusted net yards are broken down into quartiles including a median line for each statistic. Allen appears below, right on the 56% competion horizontal axis and just under the Ay/A median line.

(Click on the picture below to see the full graph)

Some players like Mayfield and Stanford’s Andrew Luck excelled in both areas for each year analyzed. Others like Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn and Florida’s Rex Grossman saw significant regression from Year 1 of the sample to Year 2, perhaps signaling doom down the road. But there are a special few of the 49 reviewed that had consecutive seasons in the lower quartile for completion percentage (60.4%) and below average adjusted yards per attempt (8.6).

  • J.P. Losman – Tulane
  • Jake Locker – Washington
  • Joey Harrington – Oregon
  • Josh Allen – Wyoming
  • Kyle Boller – California
  • Patrick Ramsey – Tulane

That isn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row of guys that killed it in the NFL and it confirms the strong arm, questionable stat flashbacks to Boller and Losman every time I hear Allen’s name. The argument can be made for each of these players that the situation didn’t afford them the proper opportunity. Harrington showed the most promise of the group, but none of them exhibited the consistency of performance required to sustain as a successful starter in the NFL. The fact Allen is in this group concerns me a great deal.

The other piece I wanted to look at is how Allen performed against top level competition. When presented with a non-Power Five quarterback, the arguments about level of competition can cut both ways. The problem is made worse when FCS players like Flacco or Wentz enter the discussion. But the most simplistic way to get a little glimpse of what they can do against top opponents is to look at their performance in the non-conference schedule against Power Five opponents.

For comparison’s sake, I put Allen’s numbers in these types of games against three other relatively successful NFL quarterbacks taken in the top end of the  first round who also played for non-Power Five schools: Blake Bortles, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger.

The opponents may not be the same and there is always the small sample size to consider, but Allen’s struggles in these games are evident. Smith and Bortles each won top tier bowl games against Power Five opponents and Roethlisberger had won of the best games of his career on the road against a bowl bound Northwestern team. How large is the divide between Allen’s performance in these contests versus the other three?  The worst two games of Roethlisberger’s college career based on quarterback rating – at Michigan and at Iowa -were each better than any of the three games Allen played.

Josh Allen could certainly become a superstar. He has the raw talent to do it. But isn’t there ample enough evidence, both statistically and film-based, that the converse is the more likely scenario?

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