MOBILE, Ala. – As Sunday night dwindled and conference championship stadiums turned out the lights in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, the buzz was just beginning to amplify among a throng of NFL executives much further south. Tucked away in a downtown hotel in Mobile, the word began to spread: Wyoming’s Josh Allen was in the building and more than a few scouts and personnel men were looking to snag a moment with the player who will draw the most eyes at this week’s Senior Bowl.
Asked to characterize the interest in Allen, one high-ranking executive in Mobile was unequivocal, calling the 6-foot-5 240-pound Allen “the show”.
“He’ll be the talk – good or bad,” the executive said. “We’re going to see some of both from him, good and bad. That’s just natural to the process.”
This much is evident with NFL personnel evaluators about Allen, who will be the most-watched player at the Senior Bowl since Carson Wentz played in the game two years ago. Like Wentz, there is great curiosity. Unlike Wentz, the underlying doubts about Allen are not largely centered on his level of competition in college. That’s why Allen is by far the player with more to gain or lose than anyone else in Mobile. Maybe even to the point of propelling himself to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
That’s the opportunity Wentz had on the table in 2016, when the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles were both considering whether there was a quarterback in the draft worth an aggressive move up the board. Looking back, Wentz’s performance at the Senior Bowl ended up being a solid part of that equation. Partially for what he did in practices, but overwhelming for the way he interacted with team executives and reacted to coaching in unfamiliar conditions.
When the Senior Bowl was over, team officials who loved Wentz had a lot to cling to – his attitude, his football I.Q., his athleticism and the way he competed. He interviewed well and other players at the event gravitated to him. And ultimately, this was the combination of attributes that helped the Eagles overcome any nervousness about the majority of Wentz’s college film, which was produced largely against players who would never sniff an NFL tryout. The Eagles already had some evaluators who were infatuated with Wentz entering the event. And when they left, they had persuasive ammunition to argue his worth as a trade target.
This week, Allen is sliding right into that same conversation. Unlike Wentz, he has a solid amount of elite competition on film. He also carries a wealth of the most coveted characteristics: He’s got size (unofficially 6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and surprising athleticism for someone that big. He’s got a Herculean passing arm. He’s got a rawness to him that is seen as a plus – framed in a way of the “high ceiling” vocabulary that always tantalizes at scouting events.
But there is another side to Allen, more than anything Wentz might have encountered. There is a solid ribbon of doubts in evaluations that many will look to dig into this week. Questions about Allen’s aptitude under pressure and whether his arm is the only tool he can reach for when a play breaks down. Teams want to see him interact with new and unfamiliar players. They want to see how he responds to criticism from an NFL coaching staff. More than anything, they want to see him make a mistake and be coached on how to correct it – and then see if he can solve the problem the next day without needing to be told again what he’s doing wrong.
The answers to those questions are ultimately what will stoke the frenzy over Allen’s raw ability this week – or stifle the optimism that he’s potentially the most special quarterback in this draft. At the very least, it will heat the argument that already has Allen’s name attached to all manner of NFL quarterbacks.
In the past month, Yahoo Sports has spoken to NFL evaluators who have compared some element of Allen’s makeup or natural abilities to some big names. His arm? John Elway-esque. His feet? He’s a more athletic Roethlisberger. His size and frame? Andrew Luck.
There is some naysaying, too. A few executives were already chafed over what they viewed as a media hype machine that seeks out sizzle over substance. They point to Allen’s subpar completion rate and the theme of wild misses on what should be easy completions. They bemoan a player who exudes power over touch and finesse as a passer. They say ball placement matters in the NFL. And they will talk about guys like Kyle Boller and JaMarcus Russell – maximized arms with minimized decision-making skills and work ethic. It won’t stop there, either. One league source who has personally scouted Allen said his demeanor as a football player reminded him of Ryan Mallett. For the uninformed, that isn’t a positive comparison.
Whatever the opinions, some could change this week. Or confirmation bias could set in and personnel men will walk away more certain than ever that Allen is precisely what they thought he was.
The draft process is officially upon the NFL, inviting argument. Save for one point: Josh Allen will be the show this week. For better, worse – or both.