- Some give him a pass due to the inexperienced supporting cast and tendency to make plays when his team needs him most. Others see the shaky accuracy and poor statistical production and can’t envision him as a first-round pick. Considering his rare combination of size, athleticism and arm strength, the debate will rage on
On the surface, the stats aren’t flattering for Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. The junior’s completion percentage, 56.2%, is just a fraction better than it was last year, while his yards per attempt (6.61, down from 8.59) and passer rating (124.0, down from 144.9) have taken a dive. In two games against Power 5 foes, his Cowboys took double-digit losses and he threw three picks without a touchdown pass. And in an era where 500-yard games are normal for quarterbacks, Allen has cracked 250 once this season—against Gardner-Webb, an FCS program that hasn’t beaten a Division I opponent in 2017.
So no, this wasn’t exactly what Allen envisioned when he decided to return to Laramie for a fourth year. But in a way, it’s just what Craig Bohl figured he needed. And if you follow the Cowboys coach’s logic, it’s easy to see where Allen will benefit from it.
“We had an exodus,” Bohl said from his office Monday. “Every player who touched the football last year was on an NFL roster, and that’s not typical of what we usually have at the University of Wyoming. . . . Whenever we make a good play now, more of it’s on him. And we appreciate the guys around him, but the easy throws, plays that were made, they’re not there. It forces you to play better. And he’s done that.”
Indeed, this fall, running back Brian Hill is on the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad, tight end Jacob Hollister is a Patriot, receiver Tanner Gentry has been on and off the Bears roster, and receiver/tight end Jake Maulhardt was in minicamp with the Saints. And so Allen is throwing, in effect, to a new and far less experienced team, and statistically you can see the effects.
That’s why Allen is going to be a complex prospect for scouts to kick the tires on, because his trajectory is unusual. He went from tremendously talented triggerman of a veteran team to breaking a completely new crew into game action. And that kept him from doing what scouts want mid-major prospects to do: totally dominate their level of competition.
This week, we’ll introduce you to a handful of guys you probably aren’t watching on Saturdays. But we’re starting with the polarizing Allen, and chipping away at why, in my mid-October poll, six of eight execs ranked him among the Top 3 quarterbacks in the 2018 class (one had him first, and another had him second). Yet, since then, others have told me they wouldn’t touch him on the first night of the draft.
“He’s tall, athletic and has a huge arm, and everyone makes excuses for him,” said one scout. “He had weapons—Hollister, Gentry, the back [Hill]. And he didn’t complete 60% of his passes. . . . Here’s what you get—coaches say, ‘I can fix that guy.’ They blame previous coaches and say, ‘I can get it out of him.’ As a quarterback, you’re accurate or you’re not. You don’t get that when you’re 20. You get it when you’re 10.
“Last year, he had guys who made plays for him. I get the tools. But if you take him high, gotta make sure you look at the guys who had traits in the past who failed.”
And that’s where Bohl will counter. He sees a guy who has made those plays on his own, and considers that a big reason why Wyoming has won six of seven after early-season losses to Oregon and Iowa, even if those wins came without gaudy numbers from the star quarterback. Against Hawaii, it was a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. The next week, against Utah State, it was a 28-yard strike for the go-ahead score with four minutes left. But against Colorado State, it was two Allen red-zone runs totaling 11 yards that set up Kellen Overstreet’s 3-yard touchdown with four minutes left to give Wyoming the lead, then two more runs on the next possession to put it away.
“He’s been ultra-competitive, and it’s been whatever we’ve needed him to do,” Bohl said. “You look at our margins of victory, within our conference, on the Mountain [division] side, they’ve been pretty slim. And he’s been very resourceful, whether it’s running it or throwing it. And he’s done a really good job taking care of the football.”
Bohl said that Allen has accomplished the goals the two had set in order to polish what everyone conceded was a very raw game at the beginning of this calendar year. He spent time on his mechanics, dedicated himself to watching tape, and traveled to the Manning Passing Academy to try and glean what he could from other quarterbacks.
As a result, Bohl’s feeling is that Allen’s playing the position, rather than going out there and just playing, which is what he did last year to give birth to a style that made him a trick-shot thrower and YouTube superstar.
“It was really about learning how to be a quarterback,” Bohl said. “There’s more to playing quarterback than what he did last year. And I’d venture to say there’s no college quarterback in the country that has a stronger arm or possesses more athletic ability. But there’s more to playing quarterback than those things.
“So it was taking his next steps of improvement in learning how to be a quarterback, how to read coverages, how to lead an offense, how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different defenses, and how to attack. And we’re pleased with his progress.”
He has one year of eligibility left, but assuming he declares—which everyone is expecting—and that the shoulder sprain he suffered over the weekend isn’t a big deal, there figures to be a robust debate over Allen. Bohl, of course, is the coach who recruited Carson Wentz to North Dakota State, so there’s even a fun comp to go along with it (and we asked Bohl to compare the two, which you’ll see a little later in this column). Allen’s potential seems to be limitless. And the range of opinions on him will be, too.
Along with Allen, here’s a handful of guys to watch from non-Power 5 schools who (unlike Allen) you probably haven’t heard much about. Last week, we had three such players in our first-round mock. As a point of reference, just two non-Power 5 prospects (Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Temple’s Haason Reddick) went in the first round last year.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Many believe the super-sized Mustang could wind up going in the Top 10 and be the first receiver off the board. He’s a little raw, but has 131 catches, 21 touchdowns and an average over 16 yards per catch in 22 games over the last two years.
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan: The Broncos’ left tackle is a three-year starter, and could be a solid late first-round option for trench-hungry teams that miss out on the two Notre Dame linemen and Texas OT Connor Williams.
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP: He’s probably not a first-rounder, but this rugged, nasty interior lineman should be gone by the end of Day 2, and will help bolster a line class that should be much better than last year’s group.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: He somehow got to 1,000 yards playing behind 2,000-yard rusher (and current Eagle) Donnel Pumphrey last year, and Penny has averaged over seven yards per carry again this year. He’s rushed for 1,602 yards though 10 games this year. The 220-pounder should be a factor in a crowded crew of backs.
Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio: The converted receiver, who measures 6' 7" and 255 pounds, is very raw, but has 7.5 sacks on the season. With pass rushers always in demand, his explosiveness will make scouts take notice.
FIVE FROM SATURDAY
1. One of the best prospects to play in Miami’s 41-8 beatdown of Notre Dame on Saturday isn’t even draft-eligible yet. And yes, I’d heard whispers that “the Miami running back is going to be really good” earlier in the season, but now there’s nowhere to hide for sophomore RB Travis Homer, who ripped through the Irish for 146 yards on 18 carries (by comparison, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 136 yards on 26 carries against Notre Dame in September). Homer’s emergence is a sign, too, that the running back boom we’re going through won’t stop soon. The 2017 class was considered generational, and 2018—with Chubb, Michel, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, Alabama’s Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, Stanford’s Bryce Love, USC’s Ronald Jones, Tennessee’s John Kelly, and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny headlining—might be almost as good.
2. Teams will keep asking about Stanford coach David Shaw, and last Friday night’s upset over Washington is another great example of why. There have been a few times over Shaw’s seven years in charge where it looked the Cardinal might finally be headed for a downturn, and this September was one of those after back-to-back losses to USC and San Diego State. Stanford has won six of seven since. Only once Shaw had more than three losses in a season (an 8-5 year in 2014), and that’s despite the fact that he’s only had one Top-10 recruiting class. Stanford has also had four first-round picks in the last three drafts. All of that demonstrates a coach’s ability to maximize his situation, a quality that has to be at the top of the list for any NFL team that’s looking.
3. Along with Shaw, throw Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald in the more-with-less category too. The 25th-ranked Wildcats moved to 7-3 on Saturday, and the Rivals rankings of their last five recruiting classes (2013-17), which make up their current roster, run down like this: 53rd, 67th, 55th, 46th, 55th. If they can take winnable games against Minnesota and Illinois the next two weeks, and then win their bowl game, this would be Fitzgerald’s third 10-win season since 2012, which would be quite the accomplishment considering the challenges he faces in Evanston. Like Shaw, he’s native to the area he’s coaching in and an alum to the school he leads, so it would be tough to pry him away, but the NFL has been eyeing him for a while. It would be interesting to see how he’d answer if the Bears came calling.
4. I got this description of Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield from a scout on Monday, and I thought it was positively perfect: “He is what everybody wanted Johnny [Manziel] to be.” Like I wrote in last week’s mock draft, Mayfield continues to win over NFL evaluators, and has very much crept into the first-round discussion. One important reason why: For his breakneck style, Mayfield has actually played with great command and control in the later stages of his college career. Want proof? He hasn’t lost a fumble this year, and has thrown just eight interceptions in his last 17 games. Sixteen of those were wins.
5. We’ve been high on Alabama’s do-everything defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick all season, and he checked another box during Saturday night’s rockfight at Mississippi State: playing through a hamstring injury and maintaining his place as the Tide’s best defensive player.
Top of the Class:
1. Sam Darnold, USC (21-34, 329 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT at Colorado): Darnold even ran for 31 yards on three carries! In all seriousness, as the young Trojans roster has come of age, Darnold has rounded into shape, and the team now controls its own destiny in the Pac-12. A USC team that was on the ropes a month ago could wind up besting its 2016 record.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA (25-45, 381 yards, TD, INT vs. Arizona State): Rosen looked every bit the high first-rounder he has long promised to be—check out his game-winning, 22-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley—in coming back from a concussion. This week? We get the much anticipated Darnold/Rosen showdown.
3. Josh Allen, Wyoming (8-11, 70 yards, TD, 0 INT at Air Force): Allen got hurt, so instead of touching on his abbreviated performance here’s how Wyoming coach Craig Bohl compared Allen to Carson Wentz (who he coached for three years at North Dakota State): “If I had a quarter for every time that question was asked, I’d be a rich guy. The physical size is very similar. They’re both tall, strong guys that can run well, they’re ultra-competitive guys, strong arms, and they’re both guys that are students of the game. There are a lot more similarities to them than there are differences . . . I think Josh, last year, and even this year, he improvises a little bit more than I saw Carson do when we had Carson. Carson, at that time, was a little bit more programmed, he was set and would go through every one of his progressions, where Josh might improvise more.”
Helped Himself: Drew Lock, Missouri. Lock went for 217 yards and four scores on 13-of-28 passing in a blowout win over Tennessee, and has thrown 18 touchdown passes against just three picks during the Tigers’ ongoing four-game winning streak. A 6' 4", 225-pounder, the junior has the attention of NFL scouts, and there’s buzz that he could wind up declaring at season’s end.
Hurt Himself: Ryan Finley, N.C. State. The Wolfpack won, but the junior didn’t cover himself in glory, competing just 13-of-32 passes for 146 yards, no touchdowns and a pick. Finley is really in the midst of a three-week rut; his team lost to Notre Dame and Clemson before edging BC, 17-14.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
2. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
4. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
5. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
6. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
7. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
8. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
9. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
10. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
If I’m going to base this on who’s playing the best, then Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bradley Chubb belong atop the list. Fitzpatrick was all over the field as the Tide outlasted Mississippi State in the fourth quarter, and Chubb had 2.5 sacks and 4 hurries in N.C. State’s squeaker at Boston College . . . Saquon Barkley is still 101 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for the year, and has gone for just 142 yards on 49 carries over his last three games. Ohio State, Michigan State and Rutgers loaded up to stop him, but that’s still a concerning lack of production . . . Don’t read too much into Quenton Nelson dropping a few spots . . . Christian Wilkins has been on the list before, and rejoins after a very disruptive effort against Florida State on Saturday.
UCLA at USC (Saturday, ABC, 8 p.m.): No need to overcomplicate this one. We’ve been talking about Darnold and Rosen as NFL prospects for over a year (over two years in Rosen’s case) and this is likely the last time the two will face off as collegians. So enjoy this one. Oh, and if you’re more into old-school football, be sure to check out Wisconsin’s offensive line vs. Michigan’s defensive line (Saturday, FOX, noon) a little earlier in the day as an appetizer.
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