Over the last few months, the 2018 NFL quarterback class has been analyzed in every way possible. From the scheme that Baker Mayfield operated in to the personality assessments of Josh Rosen, the management of Lamar Jackson’s career, Sam Darnold’s mechanics, or Josh Allen’s completion percentage statistics, you name it, it has been analyzed, and rightfully so; it is the most important position in all of sports.
Brandon Beane and the Bills’ front office chose to fill their most important position with a QB in Josh Allen, whose analytics, production, and overall eye test really didn’t appear to match his 7th-overall selection. As Bills fans, we have all seen the 56.2 completion percentage over his 27 game career. We have heard people justify it by citing drops, a lack of talent around him, or even how a few more easy completions a game would have elevated that number to the 60% landmark. All of that may be true in some fashion, but I have not been one to argue any of the points or counterpoints.
What I will argue is that accuracy is the premier trait in an NFL quarterback. In college, that is not always the case. However you want to cut it, Allen will need to improve his accuracy and placement if he wants to have any sort of success at the next level.
Soon after drafting Allen, I looked back at my notes, and two notes in bold stood out:
- Can lose control of footwork at times; which can cause accuracy issues when he needs to pull the trigger quickly.
- Over-shifts weight or is off balance at the top of his drops, so he has to gather his balance prior to throws, and it doesn’t always happen smoothly, which leads to inaccuracy.
My notes probably resemble a lot of your notes on Allen, because when quarterbacks struggle with accuracy, you hear about footwork. Teams will try to try and feed you the company line, that ____ has to clean up his footwork and he will be fine. So it wasn’t surprising to hear that line during his introductory press conference.
Josh Allen says his footwork is the biggest thing he needs to improve and he’s been working with Jordan Palmer the past few months on it.
— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) April 28, 2018
Even though Allen explains footwork and what it means to a QB’s throwing motion pretty well, the average fan may not understand it. So I want to try and show you what bad footwork looks like, how sloppy footwork will throw off the entire sequencing of a throwing motion, and how it can lead to an inaccurate throw. If you can understand those mechanics, maybe you can empathize with why the Bills took a shot on the big arm from Firebaugh.
Throwing isn’t just based on hitting your back foot, pointing your shoulder and letting it rip. It’s based on the entire movement of your body, or what QB guru Tom House of 3DQB calls ‘kinematic sequencing’. House is known for training the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford (a sub-60% college completion guy). I don’t want to dive too deeply into the biomechanics side of a throwing motion, so we will keep this relative to Allen. Let’s start with how Allen’s bad footwork throws off the sequencing or process of a throw and how it leads to an inaccurate ball.
Let’s start off with his drop. He tends to lose control of his footwork at or near the top of his drop. At times, his feet during that sequence are erratic, and that, of course, throws off his balance and posture. If a quarterback’s balance and weight distribution are not even, it can throw off the entire throwing motion. I think these two factors are at the crux of all of Allen’s accuracy issues.
On this smash concept, watch how off-balance he is soon after the shoulder fake.
To make things worse, he then hops into the throwing motion, which doesn’t allow him to properly ‘set the hallway’. We see this often when he attempts to throw screens or flare routes to running backs.
When making throws, quarterbacks may need to fit the ball through tight windows, but more importantly, they must place the throw in a catchable spot for the receiver. Coach Dub Maddox refers to those windows/target areas within the frame of a WR as a ‘hallway’. Quarterbacks should visualize 18-inch ‘hallways’ because the minimum shoulder width of an NFL receiver is 18 inches. To get the feet prepared to make those tight throws, Coach Maddox teaches QBs to align the midfoot of their back foot with the target.
Allen has a tendency to not ‘set his hallways’ properly. Let’s take a look at what I mean. On this play, as Allen is dropping back he sees pressure coming from the field, and for some reason his first reaction is to look into the boundary (right), but there aren’t any targets to the right. So now his lower body is not in an optimal position to smoothly climb the pocket with balance AND it is definitely not in a position to make a throw to any of the targets to the left.
So now he has to gather his balance and center of gravity to climb the pocket, which is very difficult to do with such a wide base.
Then he needs to immediately get his hips and feet into a position to throw to his left. This is a difficult feat to accomplish, given the immense amount of weight he needs to transfer to execute these movements. He is not operating with light feet.
So he is forced to hop into the throw while trying to ‘set the hallway’ on a moving target running wide open to the post.
A target who is 25 yards downfield as Allen is about to release.
This is a throw he could have easily nailed if he had been smooth and efficient—smooth and efficient in his footwork at the top of his drop and while manipulating the pocket. He was not able to ‘quiet his lower half.’
Another one. His movement and weight distribution is a little too erratic for me eventhough he does find a clean platform to throw from. He still doesn't set the hallway to where the WR is headed. pic.twitter.com/rELM8AXE1d
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 8, 2018
It’s this type of unnecessary movement in the pocket in his lower half that affects his upper half. On this play, Allen is moving far too much as he hitches up in the pocket. His balance isn’t too bad early on. But after changing his mind about throwing to his left, he reloads and attempts to get his body into position to throw it deep over the middle. The movement is sudden, disjointed, and it causes him to set the incorrect hallway on a moving target who is running a deep post. What also goes unnoticed is when QBs make these sudden movements, it also affects their head/eye movement. According to Tom House, for every one inch of inappropriate head movement, it causes QBs two inches of the release point. I know it is difficult to see, but just look at his shoulder pad level as he reloads. Do his shoulders look level? If they aren’t level, naturally, his head/eyes aren’t either, especially considering the two routes at different areas and at different depths of the field. Do you think that sudden movement of his lower body in conjunction with his head/eye movement possibly cost him a couple inches on this pass?
Not an exact science but you can see why Allen is inaccurate. Aside from too much movement in the pocket and his wide base/overstride imo, he doesn't set the hallway correctly. That's why I stated in his report that in these instances his arm/upper body can't cash that check pic.twitter.com/Z3a2sLzILD
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 8, 2018
Another issue that arises with his mechanics is that after ‘setting up the hallway’, as he is about to strike with that front foot, he will step directly on that midline. If you cycle back to the first throw versus Iowa, you will see him ‘step on the midline.’
This also throws off the sequencing of a throwing motion and leads to inaccuracy because footwork affects your hips, hips affect your shoulders, shoulders affect the throw. It leads a quarterback to ultimately tilt and slash. Here is Coach Maddox explaining how Wentz struggled at the end of his first season because of a similar issue:
Some examples of Wentz' issues pic.twitter.com/SjcglojR8I
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 8, 2018
Allen air mails the pass on a very similar throw because of heavy feet, bad weight distribution, and because he steps on the midline. On 3rd-and-15, Wyoming aligns in a 3×1 set and Allen attempts to hit a dig route in an NFL window. It’s a throw that needs anticipation, velocity and pinpoint placement. Allen does a great job of setting the hallway, but he is not balanced when he is set to throw, and he steps on the midline, which forces him to ’tilt and slash’, like Coach Maddox mentioned. That is why you see the wildly inaccurate pass that sails high.
Similar issue here by Allen. NFL window on the dig route but his weight transfer and distribution on top of the other mechanics leads to the incompletion. pic.twitter.com/AUmEadFI9e
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 8, 2018
While Allen had an up-and-down college career, there were many times where he put it all together, like on this play versus Air Force. Even though the Cowboys don’t score, Allen shows that he can read the defense, trust his protection, execute clean mechanics and deliver an accurate ball.
He sets the hallway very nicely as the slot receiver runs a pivot route to the field.
His balance and throwing posture are perfect. Eyes and shoulders are level and directed at his target as he is prepared to throw. He quickly strikes with his lead foot just before he separates the ball from his off hand, so his hips are able to open smoothly, allowing him to be able to generate the velocity and accuracy needed.
Leading up to the draft we heard that Allen was working with former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, which Allen even mentioned in his initial press conference. His work with Palmer was noticeable in all of the Draft Season events, such as the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, and even his Pro Day.
Some of the issues that I highlighted, like his erratic footwork, lack of balance, unnecessary head/eye movement, setting the hallway, and stepping on the midline and tilting and slashing, seemed to be straightened out.
Here are some clips from last season and then from Allen’s Pro Day. What a difference. Smooth drops, light feet, great balance, and efficient movements.
Balancing Allen’s playing time early on may directly affect the mechanics they are looking to correct. Because as we all know, executing in controlled environments isn’t the same as when the bullets are flying on Sundays. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to keep drilling proper mechanics if they want Allen to truly be the franchise QB that the Bills organization has been yearning for.