How Big of a Deal Is Josh Allen's Low College Completion Percentage?

Josh Allen had a low completion rate in college, yet teams seem to be overlooking it. Is that a mistake?

"[The] biggest error we made when evaluating Kyle Boller out of Cal was justifying his low completion percentage by criticizing the talent he had around him."

Brian Billick, the ex-Ravens head coach who drafted Boller 19th overall in 2003, sent that tweet last January. Fast forward 15 months, and we're seeing this same logic being used for selecting Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in this month's draft.

If you've avoided draft analysis this offseason, the dilemma here is pretty straightforward. You've got a quarterback in Allen who brings the right physical traits to the table to become a franchise signal-caller -- he's big, he can throw the ball farther than anyone else in the draft, and so on -- but his college numbers just don't compare to other passers' numbers in this year's draft. He threw for only 1,812 yards in 11 games last season with a 56.3% completion percentage. And, no, that's not a typo.

Is College Completion Percentage Important?

A quarterback who succeeded in the box score during his college years won't automatically be a good pro, and the opposite is true, too. There are statistics that correlate to success at the next level, but the transition isn't seamless. If it was, prospecting the position would be a lot easier than it actually is.

And, to be honest, completion percentage may not be that big of a deal for quarterbacks making the jump to the NFL. Since the turn of the century, we've seen 74 quarterbacks with more than one NFL season where they dropped back to pass 200 or more times, with the caveat that the quarterback was also drafted during or after the year 2000. The correlation between the maximum completion percentage a quarterback had during any significant year in college (at least a 15 attempts per game average) to the number of NFL seasons where the quarterback dropped back to pass 200 or more times is basically non-existent.

To put this another way: A player's best single college season completion percentage told us nothing about his longevity as a relevant NFL starter.

To be fair, there's some noise when looking at things this way. Starters in the NFL don't necessarily have to be good, and teams will often just throw a player under center because they almost have to. Jamarcus Russell had two seasons with 200 or more drop backs. The aforementioned Kyle Boller had three. And they were both first-round picks, getting more opportunity than they probably deserved to get.

But when we associate performance to the name, the correlation still isn't strong. When adjusting our Passing Net Expected Points metric (you can read more about Net Expected Points, or NEP, in our glossary) for era, the r-squared value between best college season completion percentage to actual NFL on-field performance was smaller than 0.05.

It was pretty non-existent.

With that being said, very few things will give you a strong correlation in football due to the multitude of variables at play. This isn't baseball. And that's what makes data analysis in football so damn fun.

Going back to the 74-quarterback sample, take a look at the list of passers who rank in the top-15 in best college season completion percentage versus the bottom-15.

Rank Quarterback Completion Rate Rank Quarterback Completion Rate
1 Colt McCoy 76.7% 60 Quincy Carter 60.7%
2 Russell Wilson 72.8% 61 Kyle Orton 60.7%
3 Brandon Weeden 72.4% 62 Patrick Ramsey 60.4%
4 Robert Griffin III 72.4% 63 Kellen Clemens 59.9%
5 Philip Rivers 72.0% 64 Shaun Hill 59.9%
6 Andrew Luck 71.3% 65 Trevor Siemian 59.7%
7 Geno Smith 71.2% 66 Tyrod Taylor 59.7%
8 Teddy Bridgewater 71.0% 67 JP Losman 59.5%
9 Case Keenum 71.0% 68 Brian Hoyer 59.3%
10 Matt Schaub 69.7% 69 Joey Harrington 58.8%
11 Jason Campbell 69.6% 70 Michael Vick 57.7%
12 Sam Bradford 69.5% 71 Ryan Fitzpatrick 57.2%
13 Nick Foles 69.1% 72 Derek Anderson 54.2%
14 Ben Roethlisberger 69.1% 73 Josh McCown 53.4%
15 Derek Carr 68.9% 74 Kyle Boller 53.4%

Just by looking at the names of these passers, you can tell that there are far more busts at the position at the lower end of the list than at the top of it.

And when you chart college completion percentage (again, this is taking the best completion percentage a player had in a single season) versus career adjusted Passing Net Expected Points per drop back (NFL efficiency), you can see that the lack of correlation in the data set really starts when you reach the 60% threshold.

What this is showing us is that players with ultra-bad college completion rates really haven't been effective in the NFL. The sample isn't large -- and, to reiterate, we're only looking at quarterbacks who've had multiple 200-plus drop back NFL seasons -- but the sample is scary.

If you want to look at things a little differently, here's the 74-quarterback sample broken up into groups based on where they ranked in college completion percentage. Feel free to compare each group's average adjusted Passing NEP per drop back rate to one another.

Group (Rank)Adjusted Passing NEP per Drop Back Average
1 to 15-0.01
16 to 30-0.02
31 to 45-0.05
46 to 60-0.02
61 to 74-0.08

The entire sample may not be showing a strong correlation, but that has a lot to do with players who have a maximum completion percentage at or north of 60%, which is where passers in the 46 to 60 group lie. The reality is, quarterbacks with poor completion rates have been four times as inefficient per drop back in the NFL as passers with slightly below average to elite ones.

This doesn't bode well for Josh Allen, who falls directly into the "hey, I wasn't very good in the completion percentage department in college" bucket. Because in order for him to pan out as a pro, he'll have to do something that we really haven't seen in recent history.

Or, I guess, he'll need to make an impact on the ground like Michael Vick did. But I don't think that's happening.