Josh Allen throws at the NFL Scouting combine last week.
Josh Allen dropped jaws with how easily he flung the ball around at the NFL Scouting combine last week.
The Wyoming quarterback zipped passes effortlessly toward the sideline, then really impressed by uncorking beautiful deep throws to streaking wideouts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
But then, arm talent has never been the question with Allen.
"The biggest arm quarterback I've seen since JaMarcus Russell," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a conference call.
The arm strength comparison to Russell is an encouraging one, as the Raiders made the LSU quarterback the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft. But NFL success never came for Russell, who went 7-18 as a starter with 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a 52.1 career completion percentage before washing out after only three seasons.
Inaccuracy plagued Russell, and that is the main concern with Allen. The velocity on his passes is enough to fit the ball in tight windows, but consistent misplacement would undercut that strength. It's something Allen is aiming to correct in advance of the draft.
"I'm just working on consistent footwork," Allen said. "Kind of every throw that I had this past season where I missed, it was derived from my feet. … I feel like whenever my feet are set, I'm as accurate as anybody."
Allen's journey to the precipice of the NFL began modestly. He was raised on a farm in Firebaugh, California, about 40 miles west of Fresno, where he would sometimes get tasked to help with the hard labor.
"It was about a 2,000-acre operation," Allen said. "My dad owned a thousand acres of it. Strictly row crops of cotton, cantaloupe and wheat. During the summers, helping my dad move irrigation pipe, picking cotton, picking weeds in the cotton field, driving disc tractors, whatever the case may be."
The easiest way to avoid chores was by getting involved in sports, so Allen threw himself into them. But it wasn't an instant success story.
He didn't get any Division I interest coming out of high school and went to Reedley College, a juco near his hometown. Despite putting up good numbers there, four-year still schools weren't banging down the door for him. They were barely knocking.
"I was begging teams to give me a scholarship, sending emails out and hoping to hear back from them," Allen said. "I got one opportunity. That was with the University of Wyoming, thankfully."
Allen's numbers with the Cowboys didn't come close to matching the production of fellow top prospects Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson. He finished his career with 5,066 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 27 games.
Allen checks all the boxes physically – he is 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds with impressive athleticism to boot – but his completion percentage of 56.2 is what gives evaluators pause. Mayock said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is the only quarterback he has researched who had a similar completion percentage in college and became a franchise quarterback.
"I think with this kid, it starts with the ground up," Mayock said. "I don't think his feet and his eyes are connected. And that's a big, big deal with quarterbacks. He's the most physically gifted quarterback in this draft class, but he's got a lot of work to do on his footwork."
Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said accuracy in college matters, but that it's also critical to deduce what factors contribute to a low completion percentage.
"Accuracy is important, but also I think you have to evaluate what scheme they are coming out of as well, because that may have a direct reflection on their percentage," Wilks said. "I think all of that goes into play. Also, once you identify those guys, it's going to their Pro Day or going to their private workout and really working them out yourself and trying to get a better feel."
While there may be split opinions on Allen, he isn't taking for granted his spot as one of the most desirable quarterbacks in the draft. He is a virtual guarantee to be taken somewhere in the first round.
"Taking this all in, it's a really surreal moment," Allen said from a podium at the combine. "Just kind of see everything that I've dreamt of as a kid is kind of falling into place. If you knew who I was three years ago, I don't think you would say this was possible, so it's been really cool."
Images of Cardinals when they were draft prospects