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Stats Are for Losers: Josh Allen Hype Season Has Officially Arrived

NFL evaluators are apparently in love with the extremely tall, rocket-armed, small-school QB prospect. But why?

Josh Allen throwing the football in front of a larger image of Josh Allen with a towel on his head AP Images/Ringer illustration

For someone who plays a position where intangibles mean more than anything, Josh Allen has all the tangibles.

He measured as the tallest quarterback at the Senior Bowl, 6-foot-4 and seven-eighths of an inch. His hands are 10 and one-eighth inches, also the largest among QBs at the Senior Bowl. He possesses Uncle Rico–level arm strength, throwing the ball more than 66 miles per hour when the fastest throw ever measured at the NFL combine is 60 miles an hour. For these reasons, some evaluators believe the Wyoming quarterback is the top prospect in the 2018 NFL draft class. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projected Allen to go first overall in his initial mock draft of the year.

Josh Allen Hype Season is officially here. His games at Wyoming were sparsely televised, but now the entire football world is watching the cannon-armed mountain man, trying to determine exactly how talented he is. I just keep coming across one problem when I consider Allen as a prospect: He does not seem especially good at playing football.

Allen routinely misses throws that you’d expect most starting Division I quarterbacks to make.

Here are multiple videos of Allen whiffing on passes to unguarded targets behind the line of scrimmage.

Wait, sorry, that third video featured Christian Hackenberg, the last 6-foot-4 quarterback whose draft hype I didn’t understand at all.

Here is Allen at Senior Bowl practice, running a footwork drill alongside fellow prospect Baker Mayfield. Mayfield places the ball right in the little pocket for which he’s aiming. Allen misses the human-sized net entirely.

It would be unfair to cite one missed throw from practice as evidence of anything, but it’s impossible to watch any amount of Allen’s tape without seeing a handful of dramatic misses. Several reporters have noted that Allen has routinely missed throws at Senior Bowl practice even when defenders aren’t on the field. A common issue is that his famously rocket-powered arm blasts the ball to space while his sadly earthbound receivers watch it fly over their heads. I recommend this thread from Bleacher Report’s Ryan McCrystal, who demonstrates the depth and breadth of Allen’s ability to miss passes. Allen is not a one-miss wonder: He contributes to the entire Bad Passes genre, from underthrows to tosses behind receivers to baffling misreads of the defense.

Statistically, Allen is by far the least impressive of the quarterbacks in consideration for a 2018 first-round pick. As a junior last season, he completed 56.3 percent of his throws and averaged a pedestrian 6.7 yards per attempt, with just 16 touchdown passes in 11 games. The other four top quarterbacks in this year’s draft class — Oklahoma’s Mayfield, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson — all threw at least 26 touchdowns last season, and none averaged fewer than 8.3 yards per attempt. Allen passed for 250 yards in a game only once in 2017, against FCS program Gardner-Webb; Mayfield, Darnold, Rosen, and Jackson all had at least six 300-yard passing performances.

Allen’s kingmakers would prefer for people not to focus on these numbers. In fact, coming up with reasons to ignore Allen’s worst traits has become a cottage industry. (Have you considered that maybe Allen is actually so good at throwing the ball that his receivers can’t catch it? These guys have.) “Stats are for losers,” Kiper said about Allen last week. “The guy won.”

But this, too, is a deeply flawed argument. Wyoming went 16–9 with Allen as a starter over the last two seasons: 8–6 in 2016, and 8–3 last fall. USC went 20–4 with Darnold starting at QB over the same span; Oklahoma went 23–4 with Mayfield, and 34–6 if you include the Sooners’ run to the College Football Playoff during Mayfield’s redshirt sophomore campaign in 2015. Louisville went 17–9 behind Jackson over the last two years, a mark that’s nearly identical to Allen’s clip at Wyoming. Of course, Jackson played against an ACC schedule, while Allen took on lesser Mountain West competition. When Allen did go against the big boys, the results were ugly. He had three career games against power-conference opponents (Nebraska, Iowa, and Oregon); all resulted in blowout losses, by a combined score of 125–33. Allen performed horribly, going 48-for-96 passing for 425 yards (4.42 per attempt) with one touchdown and eight interceptions.

Another red flag may be that Wyoming won in 2017 because of its defense. The Cowboys finished ninth out of 130 FBS college football teams in scoring defense (17.5 points per game allowed), while Allen and the offense ranked 104th in scoring (23.5 points per game). Then again, stats are for losers.

Everybody wants to find the next Carson Wentz, and there are plenty of similarities between Allen and the Eagles quarterback. Both measure at 6-foot-5 and exactly 237 pounds. Both are small-town boys. (Allen grew up on a farm!) Both garnered zero FBS scholarship offers coming out of high school; Wentz went the FCS route, while Allen went to a junior college and later received offers from only Wyoming and Eastern Michigan. Both guys even had the same head college coach: Wentz began his North Dakota State career playing for Craig Bohl, who left the school to take over at Wyoming in December 2013.

There are, however, some critical differences between the college careers of Wentz and Allen. Wentz had superior stats at NDSU, averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt and throwing fewer interceptions during his entire time on campus (14) than Allen did as a sophomore (15). And Wentz’s team won, a lot: The Bison captured FCS national championships all five years that he was in school. Only one power-conference program, Iowa State, was foolish enough to schedule North Dakota State during Wentz’s stint as the starter. The Bison rolled 34–14, with Wentz going 18-of-28 passing for 204 yards.

Allen has also been compared to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, another large QB who came from a small school. Unlike Allen, though, Roethlisberger emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender at Miami (Ohio), averaging more than 9 yards per attempt and throwing for 37 touchdowns as a junior for a team that went 13–1. Roethlisberger also notched wins over power-conference foes during his career, North Carolina in 2002 and Northwestern in 2003.

There have been plenty of small-school quarterbacks who have gone on to achieve big things in the NFL. In addition to Wentz and Roethlisberger, NFL starters who once played for programs from outside of the power conferences include the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the Raiders’ Derek Carr, the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, the Vikings’ Case Keenum, and the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles. Like Wentz and Roethlisberger, all of these QBs posted spectacular college stats while winning a ton. Flacco made the FCS championship game during his senior year at Delaware; Carr threw for more than 5,000 yards as Fresno State went 11–2 in 2013; Garoppolo passed for 53 touchdowns for an Eastern Illinois team that registered a 12–2 record that same season; Keenum set almost every Division I passing record at Houston and went 13–1 as a senior; Bortles averaged 9.4 yards per attempt in 2013 and led 12–1 UCF to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. These were mold-shattering stars whose talent put them head and shoulders above their competition. Allen is not a star. There is no established track record of NFL success for players like Allen, who posted modest stats for a small school that didn’t win to a stunning degree.

The main catalyst for Allen’s hype is the ego of those in NFL front offices. The quarterback’s raw potential appeals to scouts, general managers, and head coaches who think their team can be the one to harness his incredible physical gifts. They see him as a beautiful block of marble and believe that they have the right collection of minds to sculpt him into the next David. But most franchises don’t have Michelangelo on staff.

Maybe Allen will become a good NFL quarterback. The tools are there, and every once in a while he’ll uncork a beautiful throw that reminds everybody of his capabilities.

But I don’t understand why Allen is being hyped as the top quarterback in the draft. There are obvious flaws in his game. It’s a Galaxy Brain move to cast his inability to consistently make routine passes as a sign of his room for growth rather than a major detriment.

Perhaps Allen will develop, but teams should use their first picks on can’t-miss prospects. And we already know that Allen can miss. We’ve seen him attempt screen passes.