The Saban Top 100: No. 6 Jonathan Allen

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season
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6] Jonathan Allen, DE

  • Won 2016 Chuck Bednarik Award
  • 2016 Bronko Nagurski Award
  • 2016 Lombardi Award
  • Ted Hendricks Award
  • 2016 Unanimous All-American
  • 2016 SEC Defensive Player of the Year
  • 2015-16 All-SEC
  • 17th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft
  • Finished his career ranked second in Alabama history for career sacks with 28.5, only behind College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas
  • Finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting
  • Appeared in 57 career games. Notched 154 career tackles (78 solo), 45.0 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and three forced fumbles
  • Team captain

Yes, there was a moment when Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen was thinking, “That could have been me.”

Actually, it almost certainly would have been him had he made a different decision. But that didn’t make watching the 2016 NFL Draft any easier.

Like so many others associated with the Crimson Tide football program, Allen was shocked when three of his former teammates who had been widely hailed as likely first-round selections, all went the first day without hearing their names called.

Stuck in a numbers glut, as it was considered a very strong draft for defensive linemen in particular, they ended up among five Alabama picks in the second around: All-American linebacker Reggie Ragland No. 41 overall to the Buffalo Bills, All-American defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson 46th to the Detroit Lions and defensive lineman Jarran Reed 49th to the Seattle Seahawks.

“I was disappointed for them,” Allen said. “They put in a lot of work. I felt bad for them, but at the same time it’s a business.”

Nevertheless, any second thoughts about whether he had made the right decision to return for his senior season with the Crimson Tide went out the window, not that Allen was second-guessing his decision.

He had received a second-round grade from the NFL’s advisory committee and needed to have shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum, the cartilage on the socket that helps keep the ball of the joint in place. It’s why he had occasionally been forced to leave games throughout his Crimson Tide career, but not miss extensive playing time, and had been wearing a shoulder brace since his freshman season.

The recovery time would have kept him out of the NFL scouting combine, if not all of the pre-draft evaluation process. Chances were his draft stock would have dropped as well.

“I felt like if I came back, had surgery, played good, I could play myself into the first round,” Allen said. “I thought it was best for me long-term.”

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban concurred: "He could be one of the top guys this year at his position."

Besides, it gave the Alabama defense a proven team leader for the 2016 season.

Actually, it made him THE leader as Allen sort of became the Papa Smurf of the defense from day one.

“He is always critiquing people on the field making sure the younger guys have their technique down,” defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said about Allen, before he returned from shoulder surgery. “He even critiques me and helps me out every now and again. I think he has taken a good leadership role.”

Allen backed it up with a strong final season, when he was as good as advertised, maybe better, even though he lost so many valuable comrades off of the previous season’s national championship team.

He came in at a slightly heavier weight—the product of Leesburg, Virginia said he was at about 285 pounds, up from 280 as a junior—and was enjoying not having to wear the brace anymore.

“I wanted to get a little bigger because I knew I would be playing against the run more,” Allen said. “That was probably the biggest reason why I came back, to show that I could be an every-down player, show that I could play the run. I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job of doing that. I’m just trying to continue to progress in that area.”

But the sacks were what he became known for.

When Allen brought Southern California quarterback Max Browne down a second time in the season opener, it was the 20th sack of his career, moving him past former LSU All-American Marcus Spears and into second for the most by a defensive lineman coached by Saban at the collegiate level.

“No way,” Allen said when told. “Close.”

By October he had tied Michigan State defensive line Robaire Smith, who had 22 sacks 1997-99 (although broke his right fibula and missed the 1998 season), and was closing in on the official record of 25 by Michigan State linebacker Julian Peterson (1998-99).

Allen finished with 28.5.

Last year, Allen led Alabama with 12 sacks, while Tim Williams had 10½ and Ryan Anderson six, although at the time the pass-rushing outside linebackers were primarily considered role players. Neither had a start until this fall.

“We always compete with each other,” Allen said about his sack-mates.

The whole defense took on that attitude as well, as Alabama started scoring defensive touchdowns at an alarming rate. On one, what Allen’s already calling his favorite play of his career, he got into the end zone at Ole Miss after the ball got knocked from the quarterback’s hands and straight into his.

He rumbled 75 yards to score what would be the game-winning points in the 48-43 victory.

Although the fourth-quarter turnover was initially declared an interception, statisticians went back and ruled it a sack and forced fumble by Williams – which was initially a little disappointing to Allen never had an interception at Alabama.

Nevertheless, the touchdown was still a dream play, “especially in an important game like that,” and Allen sort of looked like his favorite NFL player growing up, Julius Peppers — who has returned two fumbles and four interceptions for touchdowns while notching 137.5 sacks for the Panthers, Bears and Packers.

“It took him so long to score,” Anderson joked about Allen, but saved his biggest barbs for the escorting players who started celebrating early and nearly let their tiring teammate get tackled.

Regardless, the play was symbolic of how he was viewed by his teammates, out in front and fulfilling his enormous potential.

“He’s the center of our defense, the heart and soul of it,” Anderson said. “That’s our dude.”

The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season, with the top players unveiled one a day as part of BamaCentral's 25 Days of Christmas celebration.

The series thus far:

Introduction

No. 7: AJ McCarron

No. 8: Minkah Fitzpatrick 

No. 9: C.J. Mosley

No. 10: Amari Cooper

No. 11: Rolando McClain

No. 12: Trent Richardson

No. 13: Andre Smith

No. 14: Quinnen Williams

No. 15: Dont'a Hightower

No. 16: Jerry Jeudy

No. 17: Jalen Hurts

No. 18: Reuben Foster

No. 19: Chance Warmack

No. 20: Mark Barron

No. 21: Jonah Williams

No. 22: Da'Ron Payne

No. 23: Ryan Kelly

No. 24: Landon Collins

No. 25: Cam Robinson

26-30: Terrence Cody, Calvin Ridley, Javier Arenas, Reggie Ragland, Jedrick Wills Jr.

31-35: Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, Marlon Humphrey, Rashad Evans, A'Shawn Robinson

36-40: Rashaan Evans, Dre Kirkpatrick, Marcell Dareus, Eddie Jackson, O.J. Howard

41-45: Courtney Upshaw, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Henry Ruggs III, Jarran Reed, Xavier McKinney

46-50: Dalvin Tomlinson, Antoine Caldwell, Kareem Jackson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Trevon Diggs

51-55: Mike Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, Ronnie Harrison, Damien Harris, JK Scott

56-60: Ross Pierschbacher, Eddie Lacy, Bradley Bozeman, Ryan Anderson, Glen Coffee

61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake

66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr., Tim Williams

71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler

76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker

81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille