Minutes after the Washington Redskins landed Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen with the 17th pick of the 2017 NFL draft, Coach Jay Gruden made no bones about the immediate role be believes Allen will occupy.
He and every other member of the organization have high expectations for Allen — the player that the team’s talent evaluators had rated as a top-five pick. And the lofty expectations involve the Leesburg native making an immediate impact.
“He’s the 17th pick in the draft. He will contribute tomorrow. Right now,” Gruden said on draft night.
“Right now” starts Friday as the Redskins kick off their rookie minicamp.
Allen, the bulk of his fellow draft picks, Washington’s eight undrafted rookie signings, and another group of invited players will receive a crash course in the team’s playbook during three days of classroom sessions and practices.
Those practices will begin a day after Allen and eight of the other nine draft picks signed their rookie contracts. Second-round linebacker Ryan Anderson, fourth-rounders Samaje Perine, a running back, and Montae Nicholson, a safety, fifth-round tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, sixth-round center Chase Roullier and wide receiver Robert Davis, and seventh-rounders, linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons and Joshua Holsey all signed their contracts. Only third-round pick Fabian Moreau remains unsigned.
Contract figures weren’t immediately available. However, because of the NFL’s slotted system, the ball-park figures of the contracts are known.
As the 17th overall pick of the draft, Allen projected to land a four-year contract worth roughly $11.5 million, including a signing bonus of just more than $6.5 million.
For Allen, the weekend brings him full circle: He’ll practice on the fields where he stood watching his boyhood idols practice in training camp years ago.
A number of Redskins players past and present, including linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, used to attend Stone Bridge High football games and said they recall Allen turning in dominant performances. Now, Allen becomes one of them.
“I still remember the days when I would come up to the Redskins’ facility when we first got [quarterback] Donovan McNabb [in 2010] and I was out there for training camp and watching them,” Allen recalled. “So it’s cool to be able to say I can play for the Redskins. But that was then and this is now. This is my job and this is my business. It’s so exciting and it’s fun, but I’m just ready to get to work. For my family, they are so excited. Right in the backyard. It’s something you only hear about in stories. Not really something we even thought could happen, so now that it happened is really just a blessing and a dream come true.”
The Redskins anticipate the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Allen anchoring a defensive line that has long underperformed largely because of a lack of premier talent. Washington has struggled against the run (ranking 27th with 4.5 yards per rushing attempt last season), and their defensive linemen had only seven sacks in 2016.
Allen, with his combination of size, strength, quickness and versatility, should help end the struggles. However, he’ll have to wait another couple weeks before he gets to practice with the veteran teammates with whom he’ll work in the trenches. This weekend represents an important first step in the process.
Here are four other story lines to watch for in the rookie minicamp, particularly Saturday’s practice — the lone session open to reporters:
Edge-rusher help: Second-round pick Ryan Anderson had great success with Allen at Alabama and the two aim to continue their success with the Redskins. Kerrigan is a fixture at left outside linebacker, but Washington has struggled to find a player capable of teaming with the 2011 first-round pick to provide a much-needed 1-2 punch. Anderson will try to first learn the system and eventually compete with inconsistent veterans Preston Smith and Trent Murphy (as well as Junior Galette, who is coming off Achilles’ tendon tears in each of the last two years) for a starting job or a key rotational role.
A fresh back: Coaches like Rob Kelley, the undrafted rookie, who overtook Matt Jones as the starting running back last season. But team officials still wanted to add another option, so in the fourth round, they took Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine – one of the most prolific backs in college football. Kelley remains the starter, but Perine could challenge the second-year back come training camp. Saturday we’ll get the first glimpse at the potential starting candidate.
Project players: It’s hard to predict what kind of contributions Washington will initially get from the other draft picks from Rounds 3 through 7, but some intrigue remains. It’s already known that third-rounder Fabian Moreau and seventh-rounder Josh Holsey (both cornerbacks) will not participate while rehabbing from injuries. However, fifth-rounder Jeremy Sprinkle hopes to prove himself as a well-rounded tight end who can block as well as he catches, which would fill a depth need for Washington. Sixth-round wide receiver Robert Davis has great size and speed at 6-3, 219 pounds and a 4.4 40-yard dash time. It’ll be interesting to see how seventh-rounder Josh Harvey-Clemons adapts to the NFL. A safety at Georgia and eventually Louisville, the 6-4, 217-pounder will play outside linebacker for Washington, particularly when situations call for coverage of a receiver out of the backfield or tight ends.
The next Rob Kelley: Kelley showed some flashes during rookie minicamp last year, and the Tulane product went from undrafted signee to starting back by the end of the year. Meanwhile, players such as wide receiver Maurice Harris and defensive end Anthony Lanier also made impressions on coaches and went on to earn spots on the 53-man roster. The Redskins signed eight college free agents after this year’s draft, so they — like the draft picks — will get to work this weekend. Meanwhile, another 30 to 40 tryout players will try to make their mark over the next three days in hopes of punching their tickets for training camp invitations and 53-man roster prospects.