Wyoming OC Brent Vigen Q&A: Is Josh Allen the Next Carson Wentz?

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMarch 8, 2018

Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen warms up before an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Every NFL team in search of a starting quarterback wants the next Carson Wentz. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback fits the prototype of the position and quickly developed into an MVP-caliber signal-caller. Among QB prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, Wyoming's Josh Allen comes closest to replicating the circumstances that led to Wentz's ascension. 

Allen presents the most natural upside of any quarterback prospect in this class. He's also the most divisive option because a disconnect seems to exist between his natural gifts and actual play.

Upon first glance, the 6'5", 237-pound gunslinger with unbelievable arm strength appears to be everything an organization wants at the position. Allen even ran slightly faster (4.75-second 40-yard dash) and jumped a little higher (33.5-inch vertical) and farther (9'11" broad jump) than Wentz did at the 2016 NFL combine with near-identical measurements.

Intangibles are far harder to decipher, though. Allen's decision-making, ball placement and tendency to bail against pressure all need to be placed under a microscope to decipher whether each can be improved or will become a fatal flaw at the next level.

Carson Wentz at North Dakota State
Carson Wentz at North Dakota StateDavid K Purdy/Getty Images

No one knows more about Allen and Wentz than Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen. Vigen worked at North Dakota State for 16 seasons (1998-2013) before following NDSU head coach Craig Bohl to Laramie for the 2014 campaign. As the Bison's offensive coordinator, Vigen spent three seasons preparing Wentz to become the starter until the opportunity arose to become an FBS play-caller.

Upon his arrival at Wyoming, the Cowboys needed to recruit a starting quarterback, and Vigen found Allen at Reedley College, a junior college in California. The offensive coordinator spent the next three years molding his awesome talent.

In two seasons as a starter, Allen completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 5,015 yards, 44 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, adding 727 rushing yards and 12 more scores. His status serves as a microcosm for the 2018 quarterback class: Each of the incoming prospects is far from perfect, yet multiple options exist to become the No. 1 overall pick.

"This year, I have major concerns about all of them," an anonymous general manager told NFL.com's Tom Pelissero.

To better understand where Allen excelled, improved, still needs work and compares to Wentz, Bleacher Report contacted Vigen to discuss each of these areas and dispel any incorrect narratives regarding the first-round prospect.


Bleacher Report: There's one place to start: accuracy. A 56.2 career completion percentage follows Allen everywhere he goes. Granted, completion percentage isn't the best indicator of true accuracy, but we saw very little growth from Allen during the past two seasons. Why should an NFL team expect him to improve those numbers at the next level?

Brent Vigen: NFL teams can detect the differences between his 56 percent as a junior compared to his 56 percent as a sophomore. As they watch all of his film, they'll realize improvement in his accuracy existed even though the completion percentage stayed the same.

There are a lot of reasons why.

In 2016, he had more 50/50 balls caught than this past season. I know we had more drops in 2017. I suspect he threw more balls away in 2017.

Now, those differences may not get him to 65 percent overall if everything had gone right. But they would have shown the improvement, I believe, we saw from one year to the next.

I know scouts are watching every single play, and it's up to them to make that determination. However, I do think in studying his entire body of work over the last two years, marked improvement can be seen.


B/R: Could you elaborate on the small "differences"? Are you referring to ball placement, timing or certain areas where he improved from one season to the next?

BV: The first thing is timing relative to his footwork. Now, he's not perfect. He wasn't perfect this past year. I will say noticeable improvement came in his footwork and less wasted time.

There's still room for improvement. Of course, teams will ask, "Is he coachable to become better?" He's trending in the right way.

It wasn't just a flat performance from one season to the next, though. Beyond his footwork, it came down to his reads and understanding them at a faster pace, as one thing we saw.


B/R: Allen experienced a limited number of opportunities with 649 career pass attempts. Did you ever consider putting more responsibility on your quarterback's shoulders?

BV: Quite a bit. There was a slow, steady increase throughout his sophomore year. I'm talking about protections and run-game checks. We didn't do a lot with him changing routes. He did have some flexibility, but he had far more onus in all three of those areas as a junior.


B/R: Lack of support from Allen's surrounding cast is often cited as a reason why the quarterback didn't develop to expected levels. Last season, the junior signal-caller experienced a 7.8 percent drop rate, per Pro Football Focus' Neil Hornsby. Can you provide examples of how last year's inexperienced surrounding cast could have hurt Allen's production?

BV: An evolution had to occur within our offense. It eventually happened. In our five games prior to the bye week, we were very much finding ourselves. Individuals needed to find themselves. Guys went from secondary to highlighted roles. The transition doesn't always immediately fit guys.

Once we got past our bye week into our conference season, Josh got hurt in Game 10 against Air Force. Ultimately, that was the best he ever looked after starting 8-for-8 passing through the first quarter-and-a-half before he getting hurt. He came back into the game, threw one ball and was then out for the next two weeks.

It took us longer to find ourselves. I thought we got to that point, albeit in the 10th game, but it didn't help with Josh's numbers, especially with the injury. He picked up where he left off that night in Colorado Springs during the bowl game.

[NOTE: Allen completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 935 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in six games after Wyoming's bye week.]


B/R: Timing and building a rhythm, of course, can be issues with new offensive pieces. How much did this transition affect Allen's progression and statistics?

BV: A trust needed to be built. Josh had that with the likes of Tanner Gentry and Jacob Hollister—two guys who made NFL rosters off of our '16 team.

There's a sense, "I can put this ball in an extremely difficult situation—a 50/50 situation—and my guy will come down with it more times than not." That's the type of trust a quarterback wants to build.

At center, we lost Chase Roullier to the Washington Redskins. He was a significant part of our run and protection games. Those were things Josh was constantly learning and thinking about. Once you get into actual contests, though, we may not have been protecting as well.

Obviously, these issues throw the quarterback's timing off. Josh had to throw off his spot and on the run a bunch. Those things make it difficult to enhance your numbers.


B/R: Wyoming doesn't employ a spread offense. In fact, you brought the Cowboys' offensive scheme from North Dakota State. Over 30 percent of Allen's passes were 15 yards or longer, per CFB Film Room. Allen's percentage is only marginally higher than USC's Sam Darnold and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.

Can you define what the coaching staff asked Allen to do from a schematic point of view?

BV: If you study our numbers, you'll see we didn't run the ball at all. Our numbers dropped in the run game, and there were a lot of reasons for that. [NOTE: Wyoming's offense ranked 117th overall in rushing offense and averaged 3.2 yards per carry.]

More was placed upon Josh as part of our play-action game. We were still able to make a fair amount of plays in that area.

Where it gets you is getting behind the chains on a regular basis. As a result, we faced more 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations. An offense's percentage of success—whether it's completion percentage or conversion ratio—decreases in those instances. Josh's numbers are a product of that—whether we were chasing yards or, in some instances, chasing points in too many games.

Concern arose over opportunities to win games, because we were there in all of those contests—aside from Iowa and Oregon. The only other game we lost where he played was against Boise State, and we were ahead in the fourth quarter.

When you start to slice and dice the numbers, our run game, or lack thereof, affected Josh. The down-and-distances we faced in back-and-forth games didn't allow us to be conservative. We weren't dinking and dunking. You won't find too many bubble or smoke screens to pad his numbers.

We wanted to get one number right: the win-loss column.

As the team evolved, our concern had nothing to do with getting Josh's numbers to be as good as possible. Instead, we wanted to win as many games as possible. For him, that's what mattered most, too.

However, we needed to achieve that goal from one game to the next and made it a little more unconventional in our approach than we would have liked. You try to figure out the situation as best as possible as you go along. That's what we did.

Once we faced Air Force and found a bit of a groove, he, unfortunately, suffered the injury and we lost those final two games without him in the lineup.


B/R: Defenses tend to be more aggressive once an offense falls behind on the scoreboard. Statistically, Allen experienced a 44.7 passer rating drop-off under pressure and a 65.7 adjusted completion percentage, per Hornsby. In your estimation, how did Allen handle pressure and his overall pocket presence?

BV: I believe you can pull out a couple really good plays and a few alarming ones, too. Maybe that's a little too strong of word. But Josh has the ability to handle pressure well by standing in the pocket.

He's also very athletic. His ability to make plays is something he's conscious of with the ability to hang in the pocket. He needs to continue working on clean feet and protecting the football. Over the course of his time here, you can pull really good examples of what NFL teams are looking for at the position and some he needs to work on as well.

He's certainly showed a capability to handle and evade pressure while making plays once he's out of the pocket. The amount of plays he made out of nothing is expansive.


B/R: An AFC scout told Pelissero, "He kind of scares me the most of all of them, because I haven't seen the improvement from one year to the next." How much emphasis did you place on Allen's mechanics knowing his physical ability to overcome most situations?

BV: We took a long, hard look at his 2016 good, bad and ugly. I believe he improved. Some can argue with that, but I've seen him on a day-to-day basis. The improvement was there. Maybe not always in games, but there are multiple factors that apply in those situations.

As far as understanding the value of improved footwork, timing and ball security, those are all things he worked hard at last season—whether it showed up perfectly on Saturdays is not for me to determine. In my opinion, he really did improve. Unfortunately, our team and offense were different.


B/R: What differences can be seen between the Allen who threw two interceptions against the Iowa Hawkeyes to open the season and the version with three touchdown passes in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against the Central Michigan Chippewas?

BV: Our team evolved around him. Josh made some really good plays against Iowa. He made some sideline throws that stood out. Obviously, we got down 24-3, and he made some bad plays down the stretch by trying to do too much.

By the time we reached the bowl game, we were just a better overall outfit. I understand that does reflect on him. But he was fully capable of making those same throws against Iowa as he did in the bowl game.

Granted, Iowa's defense had an edge over Central Michigan. Obviously, that factors a bit.

Josh coming back from injury and playing in the bowl game, though, says a lot about him. The one thing that's certain is he's a team-first guy who wants to win.


B/R: Aside from his impressive physical tools, where does Allen separate himself from the rest of this year's quarterback class to make him the No. 1 overall prospect?

BV: The NFL interview process may be the magic to determine whether he's the top guy. He should come across as a likable young man. He's someone who relates to his teammates and serves as a leader. He's ultra-competitive and that should shine through since he's a former multisport athlete in high school with success in each.

Josh is also driven. He carried a chip on his shoulder from high school to junior college to here. I know he'll keep doing the same things. If he's picked No. 1, it'll be hard to justify. But there are plenty of doubters out there.

He knows he's an unfinished product right now. If he's given the opportunity in the right situation with a good supporting cast, he can flourish.


B/R: Having worked with both, is Allen the next Carson Wentz?

BV: I do believe there are some similarities. Their physical abilities are in the same ballpark. I know their competitive drives and stories coming from relative obscurity, being three-sport athletes, etc. are very similar. Their drive to be successful is, too.

Carson left college as a very mature young man. He landed in a really good situation and thrived. Josh is leaving a year earlier than Carson. Of course, they had different paths throughout their college years.

I think he's closer to Carson than he's not.

They're different in other ways. Carson is an exceptional young man in so many different ways. Not that Josh isn't, but Carson proved it. I don't want to paint a picture Josh is a clone of Carson in every way. But they are comparable players, while being different people.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.


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