INDIANAPOLIS – If Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen wasn’t already part of the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, he’s getting closer.
That’s one of the themes taking shape at the NFL scouting combine as the quarterback testing draws to a close in Indianapolis this weekend. Maybe the Cleveland Browns aren’t sure Allen can lead a locker room right now. Maybe the franchise is still concerned about his accuracy. And maybe when general manager John Dorsey does a deeper dive into Allen’s personality or character, he’ll find questions. But given some of the incremental gains Allen has appeared to make through Senior Bowl practices and now the combine, his considerable talent almost has to make him a significant consideration as the top pick in the draft.
“Allen continues to show progress,” Senior Bowl director and former NFL general manager Phil Savage said after watching the quarterbacks work out Saturday. “I think he cleaned up some things relative to his accuracy. He did have one get away from him on a slant [in passing drills]. But other than that, he was accurate with the ball on air.”
Performing in a passing group that was devoid of the current presumed No. 1 pick in the draft – USC’s Sam Darnold – Allen looked head and shoulders above his competition to Savage. Darnold decided to skip the passing drills Saturday, leaving the stage to Allen and two other likely first-round picks, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
Savage said Allen and Mayfield had the strongest showing of the trio, while three other NFL executives told Yahoo Sports that Allen’s performance resonated as a positive and productive addition to his draft dossier.
“He was competing within the group and I like that,” one evaluator said. “He wasn’t shuffling to the back and waiting his turn. He was kind of up there at the front when I was looking. It seemed like he was showing off a little and wanted to be the alpha dog and that’s exactly what you want in a guy like that.”
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
Allen wasn’t perfect, but his accuracy was solid on a stage that can lead to some jitters. The passing drills can be an overblown event because they are free of any kind of defensive pressure. But teams look for ball placement, touch, finesse, power and, especially, consistency in footwork. Allen apparently was solid in most of those respects.
And of course, lest anyone forget that he has a once-in-a-decade arm, Allen uncorked a pass that went nearly 70 yards, eliciting an audible buzz from some of those in attendance. Unfortunately, his performance was missing a foil within his passing group, thanks to Darnold’s decision to sit out drills. And that lack of an elite competitor made his good performance stick more prominently – something noted by Savage.
“Allen was in that first [passing] group by himself, so he had a really strong showing,” Savage said. “He threw the ball extremely well. He showcased the huge arm to the deep outside. He threw that one deep ball almost 70 yards – between 65 and 70 yards. I thought in terms of throwing the ball on air, he looked as good as he probably could. To me, he checked off the boxes at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, now he’s done it at the combine. I think he’s got good momentum. We’ll see what happens to him by the time he gets to the draft.”
Conversely, Savage was disappointed to see Darnold decline throwing drills – particularly with Darold on the field with the first group … but only watching.
“Darnold, I thought it was a missed opportunity,” Savage said. “For the NFL scouts to have been able to watch Darnold and Allen throw within the same environment, I think it was a missed opportunity for everyone involved. For him and the clubs. … My personal thought, I don’t know how Darnold stood there and watched those other guys throw.”
Savage also gave a positive assessment of Mayfield, who showcased both accuracy and enough arm strength to make the necessary throws in the NFL.
“He was accurate with the ball, as he said he would be,” Savage said of Mayfield. “He’s just sort of a gamer. He knows how to complete passes. He doesn’t have the arm strength of Allen. We know that. But he was accurate with the ball. He throws at different angles or different trajectories. I thought he had a good day overall.”
The one somewhat disappointing assessment aside from Darnold sitting? Surprisingly, it was Rosen, who sailed a few passes in a performance many believed he would dominate.
“Rosen, most people think that he’s the purest passer of all of them – and there were certainly passes that looked that way,” Savage said. “But he did have a couple get away from him, which is sort of odd. No one really anticipated that. But overall, I think he had a good day. He ran [the 40-yard dash] in the 4.9 range. He moves good enough. He timed good enough.”
With the combine performance in the books, the quartet of passers will each move on to their pro days and personal workouts in the coming weeks. Darnold declining the passing drills leaves the draft’s quarterback board still muddled in terms of a pecking order. And if someone were declared a victor on the field this week, it was likely Allen, who added the one necessary wrinkle that will help keep him in play for the top pick in the draft: the ability to take on the process and show he can get better within it.