ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Allen’s road to the NFL Draft was never smooth. Out of Firebaugh, California, a small farming town in the Central Valley, he was a scrawny, unrecruited high school quarterback. After a season at two-year Reedley College, his scholarship offers came from Wyoming, Eastern Michigan and nowhere in between. Allen chose Craig Bohl and the Cowboys, but his first Division-I start was interrupted by a broken clavicle.
His 2016 season raised his profile as a prospective NFL quarterback, but his 2017 season mostly raised the intensity of the criticism surrounding his proficiency.
Things appeared to be on track all offseason, as Allen earned Most Outstanding Player honors for his team at the Senior Bowl, reaffirmed his athleticism at the NFL Combine and showed off his prodigious arm at Wyoming’s Pro Day. But on the eve of the NFL Draft, Allen hit a bump in the road. Yahoo Sports unearthed a number of tweets from Allen’s high school days that included racially insensitive language.
Still, Thursday night, at the first such event ever held at an NFL Stadium, one that makes “everything is bigger in Texas” feel like an understatement, Allen’s road led to the stage of the NFL Draft.
The Buffalo Bills selected Allen with the seventh overall pick, trading up to do it.
Allen is the highest-drafted player in Wyoming football history, a record previously held by defensive lineman Ron Billingsley, who was drafted 14th overall in 1967 (San Diego Chargers). He is the first first-rounder out of UW since 1976, when both Lawrence Gaines (No. 16, Detroit Lions) and Aaron Kyle (No. 27, Dallas Cowboys) were selected in the first round. Those three comprised the totality of Wyoming football’s first-round draft history before Thursday.
“I had a good sense from the Bills,” Allen said. “The coaching staff, they seemed to really like me. Meeting with the owners, they just had a good sense, and I had a good feeling about them. I’m lucky to be a Buffalo Bill. I’m so happy that I’m a part of this franchise. It’s a storied franchise, and I’m extremely blessed. I’m extremely humbled.”
Buffalo sent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their 12th, 53rd and 56th overall picks to trade up to the seventh pick. Buffalo also received pick No. 255 from Tampa Bay.
In the run-up to the draft, Allen visited Buffalo, and the Bills made a trip out to Laramie to hold a private workout for him.
In three seasons, 27 games and 26 starts at Wyoming, Allen completed 365 of 649 passes (56.2 percent) for 5,066 yards with 21 interceptions and 44 passing touchdowns. He ran for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns and had one receiving touchdown.
In 2016, Allen’s first full season as a starter, Wyoming went from a 2-10 bottom-dweller to a division championship-winning team. The Cowboys fell to San Diego State in the Mountain West Football Championship Game, which they hosted, and lost to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl, the team’s first bowl appearance since 2011.
Allen flirted with leaving for the NFL following his redshirt sophomore season but returned for another season. Many of his top offensive weapons didn’t, however. His numbers regressed in 2017, but the Cowboys still won eight of Allen’s 11 starts and made consecutive bowl games for the first time in 29 years. He declared for the NFL, forgoing one year of eligibility at Wyoming, after the Cowboys’ Potato Bowl win.
The Bills went 9-7 last year under first-year coach Sean McDermott. Their current roster includes quarterbacks A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman, who have a combined 182 career passing attempts with five combined starts.
Former Wyoming defensive end Eddie Yarbrough is also a current member of Buffalo’s roster. He tweeted Thursday: “Yeaaaaaassss!!!!!!!! #GoWyo #BILLSMAFIA @JoshAllenQB that’s my guy!!!” Allen said he Facetimed Yarbrough after he was drafted.
The Bills drafted Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with the 16th pick of the night.
“I was standing there watching, got to see him,” Allen said. “That’s my new teammate, and that’s really special.”
Wyoming native Taven Bryan, a Florida product who played football at Natrona County High School, went 29th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defensive tackle is the first Wyoming high school football player ever drafted in the first round.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Browns. Not long ago, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was considered a dark horse for the top pick, as Allen and Southern California’s Sam Darnold were viewed as the main options for the tight-lipped Browns. But reports of Mayfield’s potential No. 1 stock began to surface as the draft neared, and Thursday — just hours after ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his first mock draft of the offseason without Allen at No. 1 — they became a reality. Mayfield participated with Allen in the Senior Bowl. He was not in attendance at the draft.
At No. 2 overall, the New York Giants selected Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, and the New York Giants took Darnold at No. 3. The Browns took Ohio State defensive back Denzel Ward at No. 4, the Denver Broncos took North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb at No. 5, and the Indianapolis Colts took Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson at No. 6.
The Arizona Cardinals traded up to take UCLA’s Josh Rosen at No. 10, making this the first draft in the modern era with four quarterbacks in the top 10 selections. The Baltimore Ravens drafted Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, bringing the number of first-round quarterbacks to five.
Allen is the first Mountain West player to be drafted in the first round since 2012. Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was chosen later in the night by Dallas, and Seattle drafted San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. It is the first time in conference history that three players have been drafted in the first round. In 2012 and 2000, two Mountain West players went in the first round.
LARAMIE — As far as the crowd at the Buckhorn was concerned, there were two people waiting to be drafted Thursday night: Josh Allen and Not Josh Allen.
Any mention of other highly touted players — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Southern California’s Sam Darnold — at the Laramie bar’s NFL Draft party was a function of how they related to Allen, the former University of Wyoming quarterback and a projected top draft pick.
Mayfield was good, but not as good as Allen. Allen is a hell of a player. He’s a hell of a guy. He isn’t cocky. He can flat-out throw a ball.
“There’s other quarterbacks?” quipped one man, who was a fan of curse words and declined to give his name.
“It’s Wyoming pride,” said Kristine Isaak, who sat against the wall in the front area of the Buck sipping a Bud Light. “We were lucky to have him, and he was lucky to have us.”
Isaak and her friend, Nicole Candelaria, were two of the hundreds of people who packed into the bar Thursday to see when — it was not a question of if — Allen would be drafted. Would it be the Cleveland Browns, who one fan referred to as quicksand? Or would he fall to the fifth pick and Denver?
This was a bit of a quandary. The fans wanted Allen to be picked as high as possible. But Denver was closer, and Cleveland, well. To introduce the Browns, ESPN displayed a graphic showing all of the quarterbacks that have been drafted — and dumped — by the team.
That did not inspire confidence.
While the crowd — a mix of young and old, but overwhelmingly wearing Wyoming brown and gold — waited, they partied and sang. “In Heaven There is No Beer” first rang out from the bar’s back room at 5:20 p.m. They climbed on the mechanical bull in the street in front of the bar. They danced to the Spice Girls in front of the DJ booth.
As the draft began, a woman stood on a chair and whistled. The National Anthem was about to begin. A man operating an ESPN camera called out to the crowd as it fell silent and asked what everyone wanted to drink.
As the National Anthem began and the TV panned to shots of the crowd at the draft in Arlington, Texas, Candelaria whispered to Isaak, “Can you imagine the energy there?”
“The energy here, my heart’s pounding!” Isaak whispered back.
The ESPN guy began passing back Bud Lights, to cheers from the crowd. They toasted and chanted some more.
UW senior Michael Lovato and his roommate, junior Manny Baker, were discussing Allen’s tweets. Several social media posts from the quarterback, from when he was in high school, resurfaced Thursday morning. In some of the posts, Allen quoted tweets that used the N-word.
Baker, who said he was a good friend of Allen’s and thumbed through pictures on his phone to prove it, said the Californian wasn’t racist. He wasn’t even cocky.
“He was never racist,” Baker, who’s a person of color, insisted.
The debate continued, with all sides agreeing the release of the tweets was cynical and that Allen is a good guy. Baker then turned and quieted everyone. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was approaching the lectern.
“We’re going, we’re going, we’re going,” Baker said.
Boos greeted Goodell. That’s a tradition: The very unpopular commissioner is routinely booed at the draft.
“This’ll never happen again in Wyoming history,” Baker told no one in particular.
The Cleveland Browns had the first pick. The crowd fell silent. Goodell announced that the Browns had picked Mayfield. Not Josh Allen.
Boos. Shouts. A chant about Cleveland that is not fit to print. A man in a cowboy hat began chanting that the Browns screwed up, in slightly more colorful language. Baker turned, smiled and said that not even Michael Jordan was selected first.
The New York Giants were next. The crowd went quiet again. More boos for Goodell. The Giants, too, passed on Allen. Boos again, albeit fewer. The cowboy hatted man took up his chant.
The New York Jets picked next. They also selected Not Josh Allen.
With this pick came a shift. For many fans at the bar, Denver was the ideal destination. It was the closest NFL team, just a couple of hours from Laramie. They picked fifth. Cleveland picked again before Denver. Surely Cleveland, who had taken a quarterback with Mayfield, wouldn’t pick another. Denver, then. Denver would surely take Allen.
Denver came. The energy in the bar was palpable. A woman in the middle of the throng played with her necklace nervously. Someone called out to John Elway, the NFL legend and Broncos general manager, and told him not to screw it up. Half a prayer, half a threat. A student with long hair holding a Blue Moon beer smiled.
“You know why Josh Allen wants to go to the Broncos?” he asked. A pause while he prepares for the punchline. “Four dollar Blue Moons! In New York, $15!”
Baker turned and said it would be Denver.
“You heard it here first,” he said.
The crowd roared as the TV showed a shot of Allen, waiting for his name to be called. Then Goodell approached the lectern. The crowd fell silent again. Denver picked Not Josh Allen.
A wave of boos and shouts. A “Denver sucks” chant broke out. Baker shook his head in disbelief. Candelaria and Isaak both looked heartbroken; they were Denver fans.
“My faith is shaken,” Lovato said.
The Indianapolis Colts picked next. People stood up from the throng and went to the bathroom or walked out altogether. The Colts pick barely registered. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were next, with the seventh pick. They had recently drafted a quarterback. It seemed like Allen would continue to fall.
But word began circulating that the Buffalo Bills had traded up, that they were going to pick next. They needed a quarterback, one fan assured another. One student said that he was about to become a Buffalo fan. The energy in the room swelled. The bar fell silent.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” someone said.
The room was so quiet that the chimes that sounded as Goodell approached the podium could be clearly heard.
“With the seventh pick in the 2018 NFL Draft,” the commissioner began. It was the first time he had not been booed by the bar. “The Buffalo Bills select Josh Allen.”
The man in the cowboy hat turned and hugged a reporter. Then he turned and pulled someone else in. Baker jumped up and down. Someone in front of him was showered in beer. Someone else kept yelling about the Bills Mafia, a nickname for Buffalo’s fan base. Outside, the music was turned way up. Inside, the bar chanted “W-Y-O.”
“Top 10, baby,” Baker said, shaking his head and smiling. “Top 10.”
The previous cheer ended. Then the crowd began to sing.
“In Heaven there is no beer/That’s why we drink it here.”