NFL scouts are already salivating over the Wyoming QB who could go No. 1 in 2018
NFL fans probably have no idea who Josh Allen is. But they will soon enough
The first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft is probably tooling around Laramie, Wyoming, right now in his beat-up pickup truck, enjoying what are sure to be his last, dwindling days of relative obscurity. He's still not that far removed from being the unrecruited kid out of high school that no one really wanted (zero scholarship offers), and rapidly approaching the bold existence of the professional football superstar that he seems destined to become.
University of Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, with the 2017 draft just completed and Mock Draft Nation and the NFL's scouting community in perpetual pursuit of the next big thing, is already drawing significant buzz from scouts and personnel men as the potential jewel of the 2018 draft. Their lonely eyes are turning out West, to the high plains of Wyoming, where a rising redshirt junior who had just solidified himself atop the Cowboys' QB depth chart at this time a year ago, and who was relegated to Reedley Community College just a few years before that with no Division I teams interested, is poised to be the Carson Wentz of 2018.
Luckily for Allen, he is coached by Craig Bohl, the same steady hand that brought Wentz to North Dakota State and molded that program into a small-school powerhouse. And, lucky for Allen, he is playing in a pro-style offense that forces him to make downfield reads, scan the field and make throws from the pocket, showcasing the very attributes that make those scouts and GMs drool. And, luckily for Bohl, Allen has a similar mentality and attitude as Wentz -- far beyond driven and motivated, eager to learn, a natural born leader without cockiness or entitlement -- which will make handling his impending fame, fortune and national attention much easier.
Because come August, NFL brass will be making a steady procession to Wyoming. The press boxes will be flooded with scouts every Saturday, and the internal discussions will have already begun amid the many teams invariably in the hunt for a quarterback of the present, the future, or both. And at a touch over 6-feet-5, bulking up now to nearly 235 pounds, with tremendous speed at that size (he most recently ran a 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds), with a huge arm and a great head, and with some intriguing out-of-conference games on the schedule (Iowa and Oregon in September), Allen is primed to become perhaps the face -- and story -- of the 2018 draft.
"I told our SID [sports information director] to get ready, because things are changing," Bohl told me after watching a draft in which three teams traded up in the first round to select debatable quarterback talent. "It's not quite just going to be the Casper Star-Tribune that's talking about us now.
"Josh is really a good young man, with a great values system, and he's confident. But you're talking about a 20-year-old farm kid from Firebaugh, California. It's not like this is L.A. It's out there in the middle of …"
At that point Bohl's voice trailed off a bit, and I wasn't sure if he was going to finish that sentence with "California" or "nowhere," because either would apply. Firebaugh, all 3.5 square miles of it, is in Fresno County, with a population of about 8,000. State Road 33 runs through what's considered "downtown," and, according to Firebaugh's Wikipedia page: "Outside of [the] city, the area is almost entirely agricultural land in all directions. Most fields of irrigated row crops along SR33 are feed crops such as alfalfa."
So, yes, this tale weaves from Firebaugh to Laramie before it reaches New Jersey (Jets?), Los Angeles (Chargers?), San Francisco, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Arizona or any of the NFL hubs that will be clamoring for Allen less than a year from now. And, barring injury, they will be jockeying and jostling and, quite possibly, trading up to land him atop the board depending on draft order.
As it stands now, Allen could be far more coveted next April than North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky (second overall pick, 13 career starts) was this April. This is not hyperbole. This is gleaned from conversations with top NFL evaluators, some of whom very likely will need a passer a year a from now, and some that will not.
"I watched the draft, and I know that Josh did, too, because he was looking at the guys coming out," Bohl said. "And Josh is an intense competitor and he's got a great deal of confidence and his perspective is that he's going to be better than all of them [drafted in 2017], and there is a case in point to be made in his argument, and with his physical skill set, I would say that.
"But his production, he does have to improve on a few of those things, and he loves the University of Wyoming and his parents love the University of Wyoming, and that's why he came back. And it'll be a fun, fun ride this next year with him."
I started calling around to guys I trust a day after this year's draft was complete, and before I could even get the question out, as soon as I mentioned the name Josh Allen, they began gushing. Usually, I could get to "University of Wyoming qua--" and the voice on the other end of the phone would perk up:
"Totally legit. Absolutely could be the first pick," an AFC decision-maker not in need of a quarterback said.
"Now that's a purrty prospect right there. We love him," said another evaluator with an aging starting quarterback, mimicking how a cowboy might have said "pretty" while drinking a sarsaparilla back at the OK Saloon.
"He's got pretty much everything you could look for in a quarterback," said a personnel director I could very much see needing a new passer in 2018. "We need to see him in more games, but he's the real deal. That's what a first overall pick looks like. He's got the size and the arm. He probably has a quicker release than Wentz. He's every bit the prospect Wentz was, and probably better."
And, yeah, Wentz went No. 2 in 2016 -- with the Eagles executing multiple trades to move up to land him -- despite being injured several times at North Dakota State. Bohl, of course, understands the comparisons better than anyone, with he and his staff identifying Allen as a candidate to implement a pro-style offense with at Wyoming, taking the Cowboys from a spread, shotgun, quick-huddle, limited protection scheme upon his arrival after the 2013 season.
Some of Bohl's staff had ties to Allen and knew the outposts outside of Fresno well from time spent at Fresno State. Allen had attended some of the Fresno State camps as a youngster, and, while quite raw, they loved his natural strong arm -- born of not concentrating solely on football at camp after camp, but from developing as a baseball pitcher as well.
He was a "tall, angular, skinny kid who didn't have great mobility," on Bohl's radar because of the natural connections to his staff. "We set out to canvass basically everything from the Mississippi and Chicago out west," Bohl said, and they liked what they saw of Allen from the junior college ranks (285 yards per game with 26 touchdowns for Reedley Community College in 2014).
"We went all around the country, and there was some real promise with Josh," Bohl said.
There were high hopes for the 2015 season, but he broke his collarbone after just 17 snaps, and that was that. When Allen returned to the field for the Cowboys last year, a major transformation was afoot. Allen's body was morphing, and he was a mainstay in the weight room.
"Josh worked really diligently in that offseason to change his body composition," Bohl said. "His core strength was strong and he got faster and his arm strength improved and I think he maybe even grew a half inch. So, he really had an exceptional year for us."
Like Wentz, Allen was a late bloomer in high school who fell through the cracks, but always believed he could play with the big boys. ("You sit down in their home, or across the table from them, and you could see the intense competitor within them," as Bohl puts it.) And now he was proving it in the Mountain West Conference, as Allen led the Cowboys to an 8-4 record, the conference championship game and the Poinsettia Bowl, throwing for over 3,000 yards with 26 passing touchdowns (and another seven on the ground) to 15 interceptions.
It was quite the impressive debut season, and while he remains unpolished in some aspects (he must improve on his 56 percent completion rate, for instance), Allen's game film didn't take long to get scouts interested. Oh, and agents too. Allen mania picked up steam around the time of the bowl game, with some suggesting he turn pro in what was a pedestrian quarterback class in a year in which about a quarter of the need was still at least relatively unsettled under center.
"We spent some time talking about that, and it actually started a bit after our bowl game," Bohl said. "We played BYU and I went and met with Josh and his parents. He's a small-town farm kid, and at that time there was just a mad rush with different agents who wanted him to declare this past year for the NFL Draft., and he made the decision to return to Wyoming for another year.
"And so I had anticipated with the onslaught -- don't know if that's the right term or not -- but with all the different agents who started to have a dialogue with him, I knew that if he chose to stay at the University of Wyoming that the stage was going to be pretty broad for next year, and we've had some discussions with him about that already and the need for him to stay really focused."
For all of the touchdowns and big passes Allen completed in his breakout season, the defining play for Bohl, and for some NFL evaluators, came at a crucial point in what ended up as a crushing 27-24 loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. The coaching staff had warned Allen about staying away from corner Damontae Kazee, the two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and Atlanta's fifth-round pick in this draft.
Never one to blanch at a challenge, Allen got baited a bit by Kazee, who squatted on a hitch route and was on the cusp of returning it for a pick-six. But Allen was sprinting to the sideline with the speedy but diminutive 5-8 corner in his sights.
"Josh runs all the way over and just lights him up, lights him up," Bohl recalled, "and the ball goes into the end zone and we recover it and it goes out to the 20. And Josh is on the sidelines, he's got blood coming out of his mouth and his eye is swollen and he's looking at me and he's pissed [at himself for throwing the pick] and he wants to get right back in there and fight. That's what I love."
The film of that play will be in heavy rotation in NFL Draft meetings right up until next April. The opportunities before Allen -- which seemed impossible to comprehend even, oh, say six to nine months ago -- are now coming upon him at a dizzying rate. The kid no Division I school wanted has the top agencies in North America throwing themselves at him; NFL owners will be pining for him. But Bohl is counting on the school and its support staff and on Allen's solid roots and grounded family to maintain a level-headed approach to it all.
"You hit the nail on the head," Bohl said. "He has a really solid mom and dad, a farm background. What a lot of people don't realize is Josh is just 20 years old; he doesn't really even shave yet, and that's not because he's trying to grow a beard. He wears a ball cap, he drives a pickup and he's kind of the underrated, small-town kid who is coming on to a national sage."
If he continues on this trajectory, the number of people seeking to praise him and lavish him will only grow exponentially in the next 12 months. The regional airports in Laramie and Cheyenne will see a spike in private jets by next spring, with owners and coaches and GMs wanting one final meeting or workout with the young man before the draft. Wyoming will have its first prospect taken in the first round since 1976, and quite possibly its first and only No. 1 overall selection.
"I'm at our Mountain West meetings in Phoenix, and there are a lot of national writers here and this is hot story right now," Bohl said. "And I think this is what people in America gravitate to. It really is a great story, and he's a good kid who drives a pickup truck and he's a gunslinger like Brett Favre. And I think people are a tired of the five-star guy who has a millionaire dad who went to the best camps from year to year to year and is a prima donna. And this guy is anything but that."
I know plenty of scouts and GMs who already agree with all of the above.
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