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MOBILE, Ala. — Josh Allen aced the morning here at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday.
He was measured at 6-foot-4 and 7/8 inches. He weighed in at 237 pounds. His right hand is 10 1/8 inches. Those are all great numbers for an NFL quarterback.
Later, Allen was a gracious, polite and patient interview subject. The Wyoming graduate shook a lot of hands, looked people in the eye and remembered names. He was charming with the child reporter who interviewed him. He diplomatically answered questions about the terrifying possibility of becoming a Cleveland Brown. He did not treat the interview session like an ordeal.
Unfortunately for Allen, the day didn’t end there. Tuesday afternoon, there was practice. And let’s just say that he did very little to dispel concerns about his ability to throw the football accurately.
With receivers running routes against air, Allen’s first pass sailed about five yards over the head of Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli. Other passes went awry thereafter, in a scrimmage situation. There were some impressive throws that showcased Allen’s big arm, but also some short tosses with way too much velocity that receivers could not hang onto.
And all that came with Denver Broncos general manager and vice president John Elway, in possession of the fifth pick in the draft, standing at the 50-yard line watching. And with fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino at his side. And with representatives of every NFL team looking on from the sidelines or the stands at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
On a day of generally uninspiring quarterbacking at the Senior Bowl, Allen’s first on-field impression left a lot to be desired. And he knew it.
“It was OK,” he said. “I had a few easy misses. You knew it was going to be ugly the first day, learning the timing of new receivers. Tomorrow will be better.”
It needs to be, if Allen hopes to live up to the somewhat lazy NFL billing as The Next Carson Wentz. Some are worried he might be closer to The Next Ryan Mallett — a big guy with a big arm who passes the look test but not the actual playing test.
“He’s the perfect decoy,” said private quarterback coach Rich Bartel, who was in the stadium watching Tuesday. Bartel suspects Allen’s prodigious measurables will seduce NFL execs to the point that they overlook his biggest flaw: He has never been a very accurate passer.
Allen ranked 83rd nationally in completion percentage in 2017, at just 56.3 percent. His pass efficiency rating ranked 73rd. In 2016, his only previous season of appreciable playing time, he completed 56 percent of his throws.
Then there are his numbers in Wyoming’s games against opponents from Power Five conferences. Facing Iowa and Oregon in 2017 and Nebraska in ’16, Allen was 48 of 96 for 427 yards, with one touchdown and eight interceptions. Disastrous numbers.
Bartel pointed out that quarterbacks who come into the NFL with accuracy issues don’t tend to improve dramatically — they are who they are. And with the smaller windows in which to throw passes, that problem becomes magnified.
Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage said NFL scouts wanted to evaluate Allen this week “from the neck up.” They wanted to see his intangibles and leadership ability.
“He looks like an NFL quarterback,” Savage said.
Looks can, of course, be deceiving.
Allen comes with a compelling backstory. He was raised on the family farm in Firebaugh, California, a town of about 7,500 that is 20 miles from the nearest freeway. He went to sleep every night with a San Francisco 49ers football in his arms, and his dad threw him passes in the living room while they watched “Monday Night Football.” Love of the sport coursed through his veins.
“This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” Allen said Tuesday.
But few college coaches were interested in helping him do it. Allen went largely unrecruited in high school, including nearby Fresno State, and opted for junior college. From there he went to Wyoming to play for Craig Bohl, the guy who coached Wentz at FCS power North Dakota State.
Given his size and physical tools — Allen said he has thrown the ball as far as 82 yards in practice — and the ties to Bohl, people were eager to plug Allen into the Wentz mold. It’s not an exact fit, but the two did talk last year about whether Allen should enter the 2017 NFL draft.
Just 20 years old at the time, Allen was concerned that he didn’t have the maturity to lead a team of older men.
“If you’re not mentally ready,” he said, “it will eat you alive.”
Now at the ripe old age of 21, Allen figures he’s ready. He graduated in December to commit himself to the draft process, and moved to California to train under quarterback guru Jordan Palmer. (He’s sharing a house with USC quarterback and draft competitor Sam Darnold.) And unlike a lot of players who declined Senior Bowl offers or pulled out of the game, Allen seems genuinely happy to be here.
“I’m the ultimate competitor,” he said. “I’m not going to bow down to anybody, not going to back away from anybody. … Coming from Wyoming, I think people wanted to see me play against some quote-unquote better competition. I want [NFL execs] to walk away thinking, ‘That could be our guy, should be our guy.’”
Most of those who watched Senior Bowl practice Tuesday probably did not come away with that thought in mind. But Wednesday is another day, and another chance for Josh Allen to ace the on-field test.
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