(This is the next in a series of in-depth features on potential quarterbacks for the Bills).
The great debate on quarterback Josh Allen is all about one number: 56.2.
How much of a red flag is the career completion percentage of the University of Wyoming star?
"Find me a guy in the league you would consider a top 20 quarterback who completed under 60 percent," asks ESPN analyst Todd McShay. "You can't."
“The Josh Allen lovers can love, but the fact is no QB in the last 12 to 14 years with a completion percentage as low as Allen has had success in NFL," said former college scouting chief Greg Gabriel. "Most end up as very average backups or outright busts."
Consider the top-drafted QBs on the NFL trash heap with college completion percentages in Allen's vicinity:
Kyle Boller 47.8, Jake Locker 54.0, Joey Harrington 55.2, Jay Cutler 57.2, J.P. Losman 57.8, Josh Freeman 59.1.
Top draft picks who have made it since 2000 almost always were much better: Andrew Luck 67.0, Jameis Winston 66.0, Ben Roethlisberger 65.6, Cam Newton 65.4, Carson Wentz 64.1, Aaron Rodgers 63.8, Joe Flacco 63.3.
One who might be considered an exception is Detroit's Matthew Stafford, who completed 57.1 percent in college. But Stafford hit 61.4 percent his last season at Georgia. Allen was at 56.0 and 56.3 his two seasons at Wyoming.
The issue makes Allen a polarizing figure in the 2018 NFL Draft. Yet his immense physical talent is likely to make him a top five or six pick.
Allen has the kind of cannon arm that would be perfect for throwing passes in inclement weather in Orchard Park. But the Bills would have to move heaven and earth to get into the top five in the draft to pick him. It would take a sell-the-farm deal that would dwarf the cost of the Sammy Watkins trade.
Some team is sure to fall in love with Allen's arm talent. On his best plays, he looks like the second coming of Roethlisberger. He's 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, and he has athleticism and escapability in the pocket.
"You have to look beyond the stats," said ESPN's Mel Kiper on a conference call with reporters. "Stats are for losers, in my opinion in a lot of ways. The kid won. When he was out there, they won football games. A lot of guys have stats but can’t get their teams over .500. Wyoming this year lost four key guys to the NFL. . . . Wyoming can’t reload, yet he led them to a bowl game, and the two games he didn’t play, they lost. When you watch the throws, it wasn’t all him. Some incompletions were a result of bad offensive line play, not having a running game this year with the loss of Brian Hill, receivers dropping balls. There’s a lot of factors that contribute."
Allen generally impressed observers at the Senior Bowl.
"You can tell his arm has every bit of the power he needs," said former NFL QB and Sirius Radio analyst Jim Miller, who marveled at some of Allen's practice-week TDs. "The throw he made in the corner of the end zone when he dropped it right on the outside of the bucket. You can't teach that. He's got it. He is going to go high, there's no doubt about it. The accuracy issues, somebody will have to work with on his footwork."
Allen acknowledges his need to improve. He's working with former NFL QB Jordan Palmer at a training center in California on his mechanics. But he says the 56.2 stat is misleading.
"I'm way more accurate than that shows," Allen said at the Senior Bowl. "That's what I'm intending on this offseason to show everybody come practice time that I've been working on that. The key to my accuracy is making sure my feet are set right and trying to have a more polished throwing motion, more polished stroke. When my feet are right, my hips are allowed to open a little better and that's kind of where your accuracy comes from."
Watching Wyoming's games this season, it's clear that 56.2 is at least a bit misleading.
Take Wyoming's early-season loss to Oregon. Allen was 9 of 24. Six of his 15 incompletions were off-target or bad-decision throws. The other nine fell into the "other" category. Hurried and hit. Bat-down at the line. Receiver fell down. Miscommunication with receiver. Receiver stops his route. There were three drops, two on balls that were not perfect but catchable.
It's also clear that Allen can't succeed in the NFL without significant improvement in his mechanics.
"There aren’t many arms like his," former NFL QB Chad Pennington told ESPN. "The challenge for him — he and I talked about this — is understanding that every pass doesn’t need to be a 100 mph fastball. There’s a difference between throwing and passing the ball. His challenge will be to hone his skills as a passer, knowing when to take advantage of that elite arm strength he has."
Allen played in a pro-style offense at Wyoming under coach Craig Bohl, who had tutored Wentz in the Philadelphia QB's first three years at North Dakota State. Allen gets high marks for leadership and intangible qualities.
"If you listen to Coach Bohl," Miller said, "he raves about him. He says he's a hard worker, a fierce competitor, he'll work at it. He's a good teammate."
"I'm not going to sit up here and say I'm the best quarterback, because everybody wants to be the best," Allen said of the 2018 draft class. "It's a process. I know I'm not a perfect quarterback. But hopefully when it's all said and done, hopefully in 15 or 20 years, I'll be talked about with some of the greats."