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O’Boyle: Allen is a long-term investment

| Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It’s the one universally-recognized truth of the NFL: You need a good quarterback to succeed.

Sure, the Eagles just won a Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles, but that took a combination of elite depth elsewhere (made possible by the value of a star quarterback on a rookie contract like Carson Wentz) and the fact that Foles remains a quality quarterback, as proven by elite throws against the Patriots.

But for those teams who don’t have a quarterback, the NFL Draft is obviously a sensible place to solve that problem. And so naturally, like any other year, there’s been plenty of discussion of the best quarterbacks in this class.

There’s Josh Rosen, the former five-star recruit from UCLA who averaged nearly 400 passing yards in games where he wasn’t limited by injury last season.

There’s Sam Darnold, who had a superb redshirt-freshman season before some ups and downs last year.

There’s Baker Mayfield, who had an all-time great college career, but faces question marks due to a QB-friendly system and lack of size.

There’s Lamar Jackson, with underrated pocket presence and ability to read a defense, but seriously inconsistent accuracy.

There’s Mason Rudolph, another highly productive college player with some doubts about arm strength but numbers that are among the best in the nation.

And then there’s Josh Allen. Allen’s stats are by far the worst of the six quarterbacks. He completed just 56 percent of his passes in each of the past two seasons and had a career-high college passer rating of 144.9 in 2016, worse than Darnold’s down season in 2017 or Jackson’s rating that represents only a small portion of his game. Last year, his passer rating plummeted to just 127.8, 72nd out of all qualified passers last year. All of this came against the not-so-elite competition of the Mountain West Conference.

So why is Allen rated so highly? His potential. Watch some of Allen’s highlights and it becomes clear that his best throws are up there with any quarterback in the NFL. He possesses a cannon arm, extremely impressive mobility for his size and Ben Roethlisberger-like ability to shake off hits.

But does that mean he should be rated as a top-two player in the draft by analysts like Todd McShay? Yes, Allen is loaded with natural talent, but if he’s drafted where he’s currently projected, likely being placed into one of the worst situations in the league, Allen is simply too much of a project to succeed.

Watch more than the highlights and you’ll see wildly errant screen passes and telegraphed interceptions. Look even more closely at his stats and you’ll see that they get much, much worse when FCS teams and the absolute bottom-feeders of FBS football are omitted.

Scouts and analysts like Allen because he looks like what they believe a quarterback should look like and ignore the missed easy throws. Coaches, meanwhile can easily convince themselves that they’re a QB-whisperer who can bring out the best in a player who has yet to reach his ceiling. Meanwhile, comparisons to Carson Wentz, helped by Wentz’s similar profile as a big quarterback from a small school in the middle of nowhere, haven’t hurt, but those ignore Wentz’s vastly superior accuracy as a collegiate player. Christian Hackenberg, yet to even see the field at all in the Jets’ struggling quarterback situation, may be a more fair comparison.

I’m not trying to say that Josh Allen can’t succeed in the NFL, because in the right situation he absolutely can, but there is no bigger project near the top of this draft, Lamar Jackson included. If he can learn under the right coaches and sit on the bench behind one of the talented veterans like Foles or Kirk Cousins that will hit the market this year, we may see Allen’s best throws become the norm. But if teams think that Allen can reach his potential as easily as Wentz has done, they will be in for a rude awakening.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel