The Washington Redskins were incredibly lucky to see Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen fall all the way to their selection at 17. A projected top-five pick entering the draft, the 6-foot-3, 286-pound defender is extremely versatile, with the ability to play up and down the defensive line while still causing trouble for offensive linemen with his hand usage and technique. He’s effective as a pass rusher and stout against the run. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what Washington is getting with Allen.
Here, Allen lines up as a three-technique defensive tackle in Alabama’s nickel sub-package, a spot where he’ll likely see plenty of snaps in Washington. On first and 10, Texas A&M opts to run the ball on an inside run to the right. Allen has to cover the B gap between the right guard and right tackle and works quickly to that gap off the snap. As he does that, he gets his hands inside onto the chest of the right guard, allowing him to stack the blocker. Allen keeps his eyes in the backfield on the running back, as soon as the back makes a cut inside, Allen simply throws the right guard aside as he works back inside to help assist the tackle for no gain.
Strength and hands are two key features of Allen’s game. They are clear to see in both the run game and as he rushes the passer. He almost always manages to get his hands inside onto the chest of the blocker, which gives him great leverage. But another key attribute is his awareness of what the offense is trying to do.
Later in the game, A&M tries to surprise Allen, using the left guard on a down block as the right tackle pulls around toward the play side. But Allen is quickly alert to the down block and as before, gets his hands inside and overpowers the guard. He makes quick work of the down block, tossing him aside as he works down the line to make the tackle on the running back and save the first down.
Allen’s strength allows him to be incredibly stout against the run, sometimes more than defensive linemen with 30 pounds more on their frame. He’s stout enough to hold the point of attack while withstanding double teams.
On this play, USC tries to run the ball outside to the left. The left guard and tackle work a combination block on Allen before one of them is meant to peel off and take a linebacker. But Allen does an excellent job splitting the gap between the two blockers and getting one hand on the chest of each. That occupies both blockers while still staying close to the line of scrimmage, which allows linebacker Reuben Foster to roam completely free. Allen works off the two blocks and chases down the back to the edge, but Foster gets there first, having had a clean path to the back.
But Allen isn’t just a stout run defender. His strength and hand usage makes him a legitimate threat as a pass rusher too.
On this play, Texas A&M sells a play-action fake to try to slow down the pass rush. Allen initially reads run, working outside to defend his B gap. But as soon as he spots the quarterback keeping the ball, Allen quickly switches into his pass rush. He uses his right arm to press the guard back before violently pulling him forward and throwing him to the ground. Allen then bursts around the corner to pressure the quarterback, forcing him to scramble and then throw the ball away.
Allen is so good with his hands that many guards will try to quickset him, meaning they will take a quick, short step toward him rather than the more common slide backward. The goal is to catch Allen by surprise and land a quick punch to his chest, but Allen’s hands are so good and so quick that this tactic rarely works.
Here, the guard attempts to quickset Allen. He takes a step forward toward Allen, while all the rest of the offensive lineman slide back. The guard attempts to flash his hands quickly and land a punch on Allen, but Allen reads the set from the guard perfectly. He gets his own hands up and swats the guard’s hands away before skipping past him, leaving the guard completely turned around and desperately trying to grab on to anything he can to prevent the sack. The quarterback does a good job stepping up in the pocket and scrambling, but this is a winning rep for Allen.
Perhaps the highlight of Allen’s college career was a sack he made against Texas A&M, which is now known as the “Superman sack.”
Allen lines up as a three-technique defensive tackle on the outside shoulder of the left guard. As the ball is snapped, Allen takes a quick jab step inside with his left foot before working back outside. He lands a club move with his right hand, keeping the guard’s hands off his chest and follows that up with a swim move to slip past the guard before the quarterback has even fully planted his first drop step. The running back spots Allen winning his block immediately and steps up to try to buy his quarterback some time. The back dives at Allen’s hip, attempting to cut block him, but in one move, Allen leaps over the back and wraps his arms around the quarterback to complete the sack.
While Allen is known for the flash plays as a pass rusher and for his stoutness against the run, one aspect of his game that shouldn’t be overlooked is his awareness. He’s always alert to the intentions of the offense and is ready to chase down and blow up trick plays and screen passes.
Here, Washington intends to run a screen pass to the running back in the flat away from Allen. But as the ball is snapped, Allen appears to know almost instantly what the offense wants to do. He hardly engages with the left guard before getting his eyes on the running back and beginning to work to the far side of the line. Allen spots the screen well before any other player on the defense and chases down the running back almost before the ball is thrown. As soon as the back receives the pass, Allen is there to make the tackle and get his defense off the field.
Overall, the only reason to be concerned with Allen is the shoulder injuries. For someone with his talent to have fallen to 17 is odd and suggests that at least some of the teams that passed on him had legitimate concerns about the shoulders. But if Washington’s medical staff gave him the all clear, and it’s unlikely they would have picked him if they didn’t, then I don’t see any real reason to be worried. Ultimately, Washington is incredibly fortunate to see a player of this caliber fall to right into its lap and Allen should provide much-needed help to fortify the defensive line.