If this works, then stats really are for losers, I guess.
Josh Allen has been hyped for a full year before the 2018 NFL Draft as a potential No. 1 pick, and it still really might happen, to the bafflement of pretty much everyone not employed by the league.
There’s never been a bigger disconnect between what the NFL apparently thinks and what the armchair analysts think.
Personnel people see a prototype athlete whose flaws they can correct, while fans, statisticians, tape-grinders of varying expertise, and most media people see a flawed athlete with a prototypical shape.
He’s a project. Coaches, scouts, and the most prominent mock drafters disagree to extreme degree with eggheads, less prominent mock drafters, and the public on how many tuneups he needs, though.
In the end, somebody’s gonna be wrong.
If Allen succeeds, he’ll be a major statistical outlier, no matter how deeply into the numbers you go.
First, the raw numbers, some of which you’re sick of, but bear with me.
In two seasons as a starter, Allen ranked 32nd (2016) and 73rd (2017) in passer rating. Here’s how his final college season compares to his new peers:
Nothing is perfectly predictive, but as you can see, the only others to have below-average final college seasons were Beathard (lost his NFL starting job in 2017), McCown (didn’t become a steady NFL contributor until his 11th season), and Siemian (being replaced as an NFL starter). An attempt to find a true statistical comp for Allen usually ends up on Jake Locker, another big, agile QB.
Go look at Locker’s scouting reports coming out of UW. You could replace his name with Josh Allen and you wouldn’t know the difference.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) April 5, 2018
A more advanced system by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly found that a QB’s ceiling in the pros is lower than his college stats, with dozens of previous examples. Well, based on that, Allen’s ceiling is the tall, strong Ryan Mallett. Not Allen’s projection. Allen’s ceiling.
Connelly’s opponent-adjusted Passing S&P+, which grades each unit in FBS on efficiency, explosiveness, and more, has Allen’s 2017 Wyoming passing attack ranked No. 119 out of 130 teams.
Allen didn’t have a lot of NFL talent in 2017, but Wyoming’s rushing offense, passing defense, rushing offense, and special teams all ranked better (or much better), so it’s not like the Cowboys had a hopeless roster.
In 2016, with two NFL draftees by his side (and thus mostly facing defenses with less pro talent), Allen’s passing game ranked No. 52, slightly above average.
So yeah, his best college season wasn’t exactly awesome. 2016’s All-Mountain West first-team QB was Boise State’s Brett Rypien.
Josh Allen had multiple NFL-caliber players surrounding him in 2016 and he ranked 101st out of 133 qualifiers in adjusted completion percentage#NFLDraft
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) April 15, 2018
Football Outsiders’ QBASE formula mixes conventional wisdom with stats, giving a boost to players who are popular among scouts and mockers. Its all-time college top 10 — Rivers, Palmer, McNabb, Mayfield, Wilson, Peyton Manning, Mariota, Byron Leftwich, Rodgers, and Roethlisberger — gives it credibility as an NFL predictor.
Well, Allen’s sub-zero results are “horrifying,” in FO’s words: “Since 1997, there have been 27 quarterbacks chosen in the top 100 with QBASE ratings below zero. The best was either Josh McCown or Brian Griese.”
Worst final FBS season off-target rates among top QB prospects last 3 years:
Josh Allen 16.3%
DeShone Kizer 14.5%
Jeff Driskel 14.4%
Connor Cook 13.5%
C Hackenberg 13.4%
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) February 4, 2018
Among Pro Football Focus’ grades, PFF finds “NFL throw” accuracy — when making difficult passes, basically — to be especially predictive. In versions of that metric, Allen ranks either fifth or sixth among 2018’s top six QB prospects.
PFF’s big board ranks Allen No. 6 among QBs and No. 35 among all 2018 prospects. PFF grades him below-average in six of 10 traits and above-average in just three: running, intermediate passes, and difficult/high-value passes.
From another system that adds eyeball context to raw numbers:
Sports Info Solutions’ […] proprietary quarterback metric, IQR (Independent Quarterback Rating) accounts for events out of the passer’s control, including dropped passes and dropped interceptions. In 2017, Mayfield earned the highest IQR on 91 attempts under pressure by a mile—his 119.2 rating was better than Mason Rudolph by 12 points, and blew away Rosen (91.2), Darnold (79.8) and Allen (62.7).
In that stat, Allen also trails Luke Falk, Lamar Jackson, Virginia’s Kurt Benkert, and turnover-prone Nebraska QB Tanner Lee.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, how Allen has struggled with the blitz: pic.twitter.com/IWda4iBNGD
— Neil Hornsby (@PFF_Neil) April 18, 2018
Those stumping for Allen as a top prospect might be vindicated, but they’ve still fallen into contortions along the way.
I asked Kiper Jr. about disconnect of explaining away Josh Allen’s accuracy but knocking Lamar Jackson’s. Said Lamar Jackson had a lot of “layups” in Louisville’s offense. Said Allen didn’t have easy throws in Wyoming’s offense. If he did, “he would have been at 60 percent.”
— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) February 21, 2018
Elsewhere at ESPN, that gets somewhat debunked:
Supporters say he played in an offense that didn’t allow for many gimme completions. Some of that is myth. Allen threw a higher percentage of short passes than Darnold, Mayfield and Rosen, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. In fact, 30 percent of his attempts traveled zero to 5 yards in the air.
Also per ESPN, Allen was among the least accurate of his peers at each of three levels anyway:
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) April 23, 2018
Another point made in Allen’s favor: his team was often out-talented. It’s true Wyoming has a middling MWC roster, but the defenses he faced were rarely anything special.
And previous non-power first-rounders have put up better numbers against similar schedules:
Another argument in Allen’s favor: he might have the strongest arm of any QB ever. But:
What good is a rocket launcher arm if you don’t know how to use it?
Josh Allen completed just one pass of 40+ yards in 2017. Each of the other QBs in this class completed at least 3 such passes. pic.twitter.com/BZgV2Djzt1
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) April 22, 2018
NFL passer rating on deep passes in 2017:
Human Howitzer All-World Arm Josh Allen: 84.6 (31.0% complete), 37th in the draft class@bakermayfield : 134.8 (56.7% complete), 13 TDs, 1 INT, led the draft class.
Oh, Mayfield had more passes dropped too. #ArmTalent.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 12, 2018
Another defense of Allen: his receivers were bad.
Well, first, they were mostly playing against MWC cornerbacks, who are not the world’s greatest. Secondly, Allen’s WRs at least had good hands, even if they weren’t game-changing athletes:
So the latest I heard in terms of making things up to make the narrative work is: Josh Allen’s receivers dropped a lot of balls.
Here’s the draft class ranked by drop rate: pic.twitter.com/fqe1fXK3Ls
— Neil Hornsby (@PFF_Neil) January 23, 2018
Another: his offensive line was bad. However, he ended up with plenty of time in the pocket, even if he created a lot of it himself.
The PFF Top 6 QBs – by time to throw in 2017 pic.twitter.com/UiWXSLGAie
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 20, 2018
It’s fair to note the three QBs with the most time are also good at running around — nobody would argue Jackson’s offensive line was actually solid, for example.
Stats are for nerds (per Kiper), so let’s Go To The Tape.
I’m not gonna embed 1,000 video breakdowns, so here’s a mass summary:
Allen has the dream physique, makes throws that range from amazingly good to amazingly bad, has a whole lot to clean up, will be anything from Roger Staubach to Kyle Boller (old Boller scouting reports read a little eerily right now, actually), and might or might not be worth the risk.
And there the debate continues, exactly the same as it was back in February, December, October, and August.
Allen will have a chance to be an NFL quarterback. One side will be right.
The other side will ignore the result as a fluke and continue unfazed.
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