Boil away the arguments about completion percentage, arm strength, and Wyoming’s strength of schedule, and Josh Allen’s pre-draft scouting report coming out of college was simple.
Pro: He was designed by the Greek gods and sculpted at the forge of Hephaestus to play quarterback.
Con: He struggles to throw footballs to players on his team.
of all of Josh Allen's terrible throws, this might actually be the most embarrassing. pic.twitter.com/5m7i51bJmb— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) January 20, 2018
This dichotomy was captured in his first preseason highlights, which included Allen launching a throw that could knock a satellite out of orbit ...
… and a decision that is ambitious, to put it generously.
Super slow mo for the full Josh Allen experience. Check the still at the end pic.twitter.com/u9jvWuSugj— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 10, 2018
Together, these plays capture the Josh Allen Experience™, and we might soon be strapped into this roller coaster for the long haul. Allen will start at quarterback for the Bills in Week 3 after A.J. McCarron injured (but did not break) his collarbone against the Cleveland Browns last week. Week 3 of the preseason is often the game in which teams play their starters longest. So while Allen has the fewest first-team reps of the Bills’ three quarterbacks this August and his completion percentage this preseason (56 percent) is the same as his abysmal career mark in college, him earning the start over Nathan Peterman—he of the five-interceptions-in-one-half ilk—is a good sign that Allen could win the starting job with a strong performance Sunday. And Allen hasn’t just been handed the job because, as the no. 7 overall pick, he’s the future of the franchise. The best argument that he should play in Week 1 is that he looks … good?
The question with Allen was never whether he had a strong arm, but whether he would use that arm for good or for evil. His highlights and lowlights from the Carolina game suggested a fierce tug of war for his football soul, but a look at his overall game indicates he’s grown as a passer. As expected, Allen’s arm strength is helping on deep throws, but also on intermediate routes where he fits the ball into tight windows.
He has demonstrated some of the exact traits some people (me) doubted, like the poise to avoid a pass rush while keeping his eyes downfield.
He so deftly sidesteps Browns defensive end Nate Orchard here (and on every other play Orchard got pressure) that Allen inadvertently made a cameo as Orchard’s white whale in Hard Knocks.
Another one of Allen’s pre-draft concerns was accuracy. Accuracy is often conflated with completion percentage, but for Allen it is a much more literal definition: Can he hit wide open receivers 10 yards away?
but guys, Josh Allen has a bad supporting cast. It's all the supporting cast's fault. No really, I swear. pic.twitter.com/XOGgDW9ie3— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) January 22, 2018
The phrase “He doesn’t know his own strength” is usually reserved for gentle giants in fiction novels, like Hodor from Game of Thrones, but watching Allen’s college tape it seems the same could be said of him. Thus far in the preseason, he’s cleared that low bar. Allen was hitting receivers in the gut more often than not, though some passes are still not perfectly placed.
Though running back Marcus Murphy should have caught this ball, the pass was behind him and forced him to slow down. Ideally Allen should place this pass in front of the receiver so that he doesn’t have to break stride while running. There were plenty of miscommunications with his receivers, and sometimes Allen throws balls off his back foot that are completions in the preseason but will turn into ugly interceptions if he makes a habit of it in real games. Those are problems for many rookie quarterbacks, though, and overall he’s been accurate, especially under pressure.
Another pressing question for Allen entering his pro career was whether he could read defenses at an NFL level. As former quarterback Dan Orlovsky broke down on Twitter, Allen is progressing here.
This kid has ability to do “BIG” things-but needs to learn at QB: The little things allow for the “BIG” things. This was a small small snippet of that. @buffalobills @TheBillsMafia @@DisplacedBills @billsupdates @mikerodak @SteveTasker89 #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/d8NRaoZLfW— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) August 13, 2018
On this touchdown, Allen demonstrates that he can understand the coverage a defense is playing pre-snap, and then post-snap he uses his body to manipulate the cornerback to create a small throwing window downfield. This is the exact kind of higher-level nuance he rarely showed in college.
Having said that, Orlovsky points out that on the very same play, Allen was late to recognize the window and deliver the ball. A throw that became a touchdown against third-stringers in Week 1 of the preseason could easily have been an interception against a starting NFL safety in Week 1 of the regular season.
The Bengals’ first-string defense will be by far Allen’s biggest test. Whether he thrives or just survives against Cincy on Sunday, the coverages he sees in the regular season will be far more complex than anything he’s seen thus far. Whenever he ends up with the starting job, Allen will instantly become one of the best Did you just see what Player X did? guys in the league––he’ll make your jaw drop every time, whether it’s an amazing touchdown or a stupid interception. Actually judging his development, though, won’t be about the highlights, but whether he can do all of the little things between the big plays.