2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 5: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
What you need to know: An All-SEC first-teamer in both 2014 and ’15, Allen opted to stay at Alabama for his senior season and nailed down first-team All-America honors. He also won the Bednarik Trophy as the country’s top defender. Allen registered 28.0 sacks for his career, the second most in Alabama history behind only Derrick Thomas and fourth most among all SEC defenders since 2005. He had 10.5 sacks in 2016 and an SEC-best 12.0 in ’15. Allen also had 69 tackles and 16.0 tackles for loss in his final Alabama season, numbers that helped propel him to a seventh-place finish in Heisman voting. The decorated defensive lineman scored two touchdowns last season, both on fumble returns (30 and 75 yards).
Strengths: If you read our Solomon Thomas scouting report, then some of this is going to sound familiar. Namely, that Allen (6' 3", 286 pounds) is a versatile inside-out threat for a defensive line. He saw a healthy amount of snaps as a 3–4 end for Alabama, but he also can kick further inside as a penetrating tackle or push further outside to change an edge-rushing look.
“I can play effectively at a 6-tech, 9-tech, a 3-[tech],” Allen said at the combine. “I’ve been working on my drops, I can drop in the flat if needed. I can do a lot of things and do them equally well for a team.”
His trips to the end zone last season provided highlight-reel evidence of his athleticism. That same athleticism shows up when he’s working through interior linemen up front. Allen is quick off the ball and is as fluid a mover laterally as he is vertically. Stunts or angled attacks are useful weapons in his arsenal, because he has the footwork to pull them off.
He also can shoot his way through a gap in a hurry. Allen gets off the snap without hesitation, and he has an advanced enough technique to pair that first reaction with a punch that keeps blockers at bay. He varies his attacks, too, so linemen cannot just sit and wait on a bull rush—he’ll swim past or rip or simply sidestep them en route to the pocket.
Allen could be dropped into a two-gap defense, or utilized as a 4–3 DE, and at least hold his own, but his game is built to be a one-gapping force inside. He doesn’t have to be on the field for 90% of snaps to make an impact—Alabama rotates its D-linemen with gusto, and Allen still posted his outstanding numbers.
Weaknesses: How worried are teams about Allen’s shoulders? He required multiple surgeries during his college career, and at the combine he had to answer for a diagnosis of arthritis in both shoulders. “Every doctor said if there’s a problem, it’s after football, way after football,” Allen claimed. “I have no concerns with it at all.”
Reason to give pause, if nothing else, especially considering that his next team no doubt would like Allen on the field more than he was in that Alabama rotation.
As with Thomas, the “tweener” talk comes up again here. Allen is pushing 290 (with a 5.00-second 40-yard dash and average athletic-testing marks), so he doesn’t profile as a 4–3 defensive end. Does he have the length and strength to be plugged in full-time as a 3–4 DE or 4–3 DT?
He is a solid defender against the run, yet he’ll need to be even more of a presence in that regard if he does stay primarily in an end role.
NFL player comparison: Malik Jackson