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Pro Football Focus: Breaking down Josh Allen's accuracy 'issue'

Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Billy Moy will be contributing to all season long. 

Heading into Sunday's regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, Bills quarterback Josh Allen ranks 32nd out of 39 qualified quarterbacks in terms of overall Pro Football Focus grade, and he ranks third out of the five qualified rookies.

The seventh overall pick out of Wyoming has largely lived up to our scouting report on him thus far. Our bottom line on Allen from the PFF Draft Guide:

“Allen certainly looks the part with his frame, athleticism and cannon, but there’s plenty of projection to his game. Even in a strong 2016 season, there were questions as to how well he can play within structure and in the short game, and that was before his performance took a step back in 2017.

"While the tools are tantalizing, and he can make the big-time throws for the NFL, he must get better at handling the easy stuff, from working in the quick game to throwing with touch and accuracy to all levels of the field.”

The athleticism, cannon arm and ability to make big-time NFL throws have all been proved true in the very early stages of his NFL career:

Allen has been tremendous as a runner during his inaugural season, especially on scrambles where his 82.3 rushing grade ranks fourth out of the 31 QBs who’ve scrambled at least 10 times.

Of the 26 QBs who’ve run the ball at least 25 times (counting both scrambles and designed runs), Allen ranks first with an average of 4.4 yards gained after contact per attempt; he ranks fifth by forcing 0.16 missed tackles per run; and he’s picked up either a first down or touchdown on 42.0 percent of his runs, the fifth best rate.

As a passer, Allen ranks first among qualified QBs with 20.7 percent of his passes traveling at least 20 yards in the air (only six quarterbacks are better than even 15 percent).

He leads all QBs with an average depth of target of 12.2 yards and his 5.3 big-time throw percentage ranks 11th best among QBs. Allen clearly has no issues – and isn’t shy – when it comes to chucking the ball downfield. The rate at which he’s made those big-time throws (he’s nearly a full percentage point above the league average) proves that he’s capable of elevating his offense like great QBs do.

Just as the strengths from his scouting report have followed Allen to the NFL, his weaknesses have, too, especially his accuracy struggles.

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At PFF, one of our advanced metrics of tracking quarterback play is called adjusted completion percentage, which accounts for drops, throwaways, spikes, batted passes and throws where the QB is hit on his release.

Allen ranks last among qualified QBs with a 62.1 adjusted completion percentage, and when he’s under pressure, his adjusted completion percentage plummets to 45.2 percent (he’s the only QB at less than 57.0 percent in terms of adjusted completion percentage under pressure).

He’s struggled with his accuracy when targeting players who are in tight coverage: His 39.0 adjusted completion percentage on throws to receivers who are either in tight coverage, have a defender closing in on them or have just a step of separation on their coverage defender also ranks last.

In relative terms, he’s also been one of the least efficient QBs when it comes to hitting the target when the receiver is either open or wide open, with his 85.0 adjusted completion percentage on those throws ranking 38th.

His accuracy struggles don’t really favor any specific depth of the field either, they’ve persisted all over. Allen ranks 32nd among QBs with an 82.1 adjusted completion percentage on throws traveling no more than nine yards in the air; he ranks 37th with a 52.9 adjusted completion percentage on throws traveling between 10 and 19 yards in the air; and he ranks 32nd with a 32.4 adjusted completion percentage on throws traveling 20 or more yards in the air.

In addition to adjusted completion percentage, one of our more advanced quarterback statistics at PFF involved a process in which we chart every throw for accuracy, allowing us to further break down a QBs ball placement beyond completion percentage to see who’s placing the ball accurately – hitting receivers in stride, leading them away from defenders – compared to passers who are getting catchable balls to their playmakers – making a receiver reach back across his body to catch a ball, taking away YAC opportunities – and those who are throwing uncatchable balls.

When we break down the throws from those 39 qualified QBs, Allen ranks 37th with 53.9 percent of his passes falling into the accurate bucket (the NFL average is 61.9 percent).

Bills coach Sean McDermott, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Allen have all been asked extensively about Allen's completion percentage. All have said they put limited stock in the traditional completion percentage and are more concerned with the element of each throw. McDermott said the "true indicator" is what the tape shows.

"I try to strip it down and just look at where he went with the football," McDermott said. "Was he going through his progressions, how he stayed in the pocket, did he leave the pocket, and at the end of the game the throws that he’s making – whether it’s a two-minute drive, red zone situation, game on the line – and Josh has done that already at this point in his young career, where he’s made big-time throws at big moments in the game."

Allen has plenty of strengths and he had many moments throughout this first season where he put them on display, but if he’s going to become the franchise QB Buffalo needs, he’s going to have to improve his accuracy, at least to a point where he’s floating around league average.

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