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NFL Draft

Learning From Josh Allen: Accuracy Can Be Improvable

  • The Draft Network
  • August 9, 2021
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The 2018 quarterback class has been under the microscope since the names in the draft class became clear. You had the underdog and undersized player who went from walk-on to Heisman Trophy winner, the unique athlete who moved around the field as if he was made in a video game, and two other west coast prodigies that had their own flare in certain pockets of draft media and NFL teams.

As we decipher through the treacherous months leading up to the NFL draft, every year, there seems to be a signal-caller that turns into a punching bag. The most recent examples have been Daniel Jones and Justin Fields. Both received criticism in their own right—some deserving and some undeserving. But the dangers of the pre-draft process are that the constant highlights of the negatives can make evaluators lose sight of the positives.

“Tell me what a prospect can do. Don’t keep harping on what he can’t do.”

It’s an age-old quote that’s repeatedly brought up when talking about prospects no matter the position. Included in the pre-draft portfolio of every prospect are background information and measurements, but the root of it all are the strengths and weaknesses of that player.

Reverting back to the 2018 crop, Josh Allen was a prospect that received an insurmountable amount of criticism coming out of Wyoming. Prior to his time with the Cowboys, he was an overlooked athlete who had a rocket arm but didn’t receive any scholarship offers. Forced to take the junior college route, he landed at Reedley College. Looking at the best community colleges in the state of California to attend, you will struggle to find Reedley anywhere near the top of any recommended list. 

Taking a leap of faith, Allen exited the program as a lowly 49% completion percentage passer with interest from only two schools (Wyoming and Eastern Michigan). Settling on Wyoming, his accuracy woes continued as he finished back-to-back seasons hovering around 56% in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Completion percentage when evaluating quarterbacks has always been a hot topic, but it is a number that requires an extreme amount of context. Factoring in drops, window margins due to scheme, and the type of offense the thrower is in are just a few of the lengthy list of factors in the equation. For example, with Allen being in more of a pro-style system that required him to execute plays from heavy personnel packages and a scheme that didn’t value running plays at high tempos, his attempts won’t be as high which places more emphasis on the number of completions that he was able to accumulate.

Also, with some college offenses operating at maximum tempo and wanting to run in excess of 60-plus plays a game, there are many side-to-side throws. These throws are what I like to refer to as fluff completions. "Fluff" because it can inflate the completion percentage number when, in reality, there wasn’t much difficulty for the completion of the throw. With the increased levels of speed of offenses combined with the east and west nature of passing concepts taking over the college game, it has made it increasingly difficult to evaluate players at the position.

Gaining more experience in scouting, I’ve learned that 60% seems to be the ‘magical threshold’ when evaluating quarterbacks. Any thrower that exits his college career below that threshold is seen as inaccurate.

It takes a while to find a similar case as Allen, but the best litmus test and comparison for his ascension and improvement is Matthew Stafford.

Even though he improved his completion percentage every season, Stafford was a 57% completion percentage passer coming out of Georgia. When searching for parallels to Allen, I stumbled across a quote from then UGA head coach Mark Richt that explained most of Stafford's accuracy issues during his time in Athens.

“The more frustrated he got, the harder he threw, and it wasn’t on purpose. The ball is just coming out so hot. It was a real learning curve for receivers”, Richt told Kevin Clark of the Ringer. 

A similar phenomenon for Allen, going back to watch him at Wyoming, the common narrative was the lack of talent around him. His top three options in 2016 departed to the NFL: Brian Hill, Tanner Gentry, Jacob Hollister. This reason is often referred to as a ‘cop out’ for throwers that may have struggled in an arena that they were expected to dominate, but it was apparent that Allen was fighting an uphill battle considering the weapons that he had at his disposal following the max exodus. Despite the talent, or lack thereof, one thing remained consistent when going back to watch Allen: The knowledge of where to go with the football remained consistent.

Possessing an abnormal amount of arm strength, it was often a gift and a curse for him during his time at Wyoming. This led to him being described as a passer that has highs that will make you fall out of your chair, but cringe when seeing his low moments soon thereafter.

This led to Allen receiving tons of pre-draft comparisons to Cam Newton. At the time, those comparisons weren’t welcomed politely due to the then-Panthers quarterback being at the height of his career and considered a mogul at the position. Taking into account Allen’s arm arm strength, mobility as a runner, but struggles with consistent accuracy, it was a comparison that was spot on.

The long-term difference between the two though is the development of footwork. Newton is arguably the best college football player that we’ve ever seen and undoubtedly one of the most physically gifted passers that has come into the league over the past three decades. Staying on topic with the comparisons between the two just to paint a picture as to why Allen has made such a leap in his accuracy, coming out of college, Allen was a mirror image of Newton as he was an explosive thrower that primarily used his core to create torque and power on his throws.

What you will often notice on all of Allen’s inaccurate throws is that he falls off his imaginary platform because of the crutch that’s been created in his mind of being able to explode from the core in order to properly complete his passes. This exaggeration and fallacy with his body results in passes coming out uncontrollably, with miscalculated timing, and hot off of his hand.

Through his first two seasons, Allen had the lowest completion percentage out of all of the starting quarterbacks in the league. Lots of things in the video above are noticeable. When throwing to his right, Allen had a tendency to lock his lead (left) leg out, which eliminates all accuracy and ability to layer the ball. When throwing to his left or down the middle, he often opened his hips way too much and left his chest parallel to the line of scrimmage.

Think of it as a baseball pitcher. Even though the body motions and mechanics of a quarterback aren’t as flexible or exaggerated as a pitcher, Allen treated throws to batters at home plate the same as if he was trying to throw a base runner out at first or third base. A clear flaw in his mechanics resulted in balls being thrown ridiculously high and low outside of the strike zone. 

What changed?

A lot—the biggest being his base. The root of the issue with big-armed quarterbacks that struggle with ball placement is that they’re always used to hanging their hat on that trait alone. The positive for Allen, though, is that he had the physical gifts intact, which bought time for the mental and mechanical aspects of his game to catch up. 

Another important piece to Allen’s ascension is patience and consistency. Regimes that miss on quarterbacks are usually fired within the first or second season. For as much of a project as Allen was, the best thing that’s worked in the Bills' favor is having the same general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterbacks coach intact since drafting the 6-foot-5 project.

Ironically, all had experience with the Panthers and Newton to see the similarities between the two and how Allen could unlock another layer to his development. The biggest question remains, what can we learn from the evaluation of Allen?

The key point is how we evaluate completion percentage for quarterbacks, what can be developed, and if the flaws are improvable. It’s also important to use context. For every Josh Allen, there’s an E.J. Manuel, Blaine Gabbert, or even Christian Hackenberg (second-round pick). Overall improvements like Allen don’t happen often, but there are lots of scouting lessons to take away from him becoming one of the highest-paid signal-callers in the league. 

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