On the final throw of his pro day, Josh Allen nearly hit the fan that hangs from the middle of the roof in Wyoming’s indoor practice facility. At the point where most downfield throws have already reached their peak and begun to descend back to Earth, Allen’s not only continues its flight, but its ascension. It helps being in the unfathomably thin air of Laramie, Wyo. (elevation 7,220 feet—you lose your breath walking to your car). Still, even with the favorable air and contrived setting of a pro day, there were subtle gasps from scouts and coaches observing Allen. Some of those gasps turned to giggles at the thud sound from one of Allen’s out-route throws imprinting into a receiver’s chest (even the stoic Troy Aikman cracked). Pro-day environments are strangely quiet, like a library; it was a wonder the thud didn’t echo.
Leaders from the Browns, Giants and Jets, the teams that hold the draft’s first three picks, were present. Their challenge was to get past the wow factor of Allen’s highlight throws and determine whether he has the fundamentals to complete more than the 56.2% of passes that he did in college. Allen’s mechanics can waver; he’s the first to tell you that it starts with his feet.
It’s those very feet, however, that could push him to the top of a team’s board. It gets overshadowed by his arm, but Allen’s mobility is terrific. He can keep the ball on the ground by design or improvisation. This applies to the running game and passing game. Allen’s arm stays strong when he gets outside the pocket (particularly when moving to his right) and he eagerly attacks tight windows along the sidelines. Scrambles are possible, too; at 6' 5", 240 pounds, Allen can endure hits and shed would-be tacklers. This is also true in the pocket, where Allen sometimes looks Roethlisbergian.
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One of the coaches on hand for Allen’s pro day was Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who spent the last five years designing plays for Cam Newton in Carolina. Newton is the most apt NFL comparison for Allen. Both are power-armed throwers who can move the chains even when the defense wins, but who can also short-circuit drives with wild inaccuracy. Allen has the stronger arm and sharper on-the-move throwing precision. Newton is the more dynamic runner. Both pose layers of problems for a defense.
And Allen, like Newton once did, will enter the NFL with question marks. For Newton, it was mainly whether his unique style would translate to the pros. (Before 2011, when Newton’s revolutionary combination of mobility and strength expanded the criteria of pro quarterbacking, many NFL insiders deemed designed QB runs irrelevant to the evaluation process.) With Allen, it’s whether he can transition to NFL competition after playing at a non-Power 5 program.
Carson Wentz’s success out of North Dakota State has made it easier for optimism, but remember: When Wentz came out, he was competing for draft positioning only with Jared Goff, who’d just left Cal as a somewhat unripe junior. Allen is competing with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield, all of who hail from top-shelf college programs. Those three could be deemed “safer” picks.
Some pundits might deem Allen best suited to sit and learn as a rookie, especially if they’re projecting him to the Giants at No. 2. But the last first-round QB who was groomed from the bench and then went on to become a franchise guy for that same team was Aaron Rodgers, drafted in 2005. Every first-round QB since then—save for Patrick Mahomes, where the jury hasn’t started deliberating—has either played as a rookie or sat as a rookie only to later flame out. If these last dozen years are the new normal, then the first-round developmental quarterback no longer exists. And so, whoever drafts Allen must consider not just what he can become, but also what he currently is.
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