Alabama’s 2015 season was highlighted by the emergence of one of the best defensive fronts in college football history. The Crimson Tide defense lead the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. On top of that already impressive statistic, the Tide also allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the country as well.
The defensive front featured two guys who finished in the top 12 in sacks. Tim Williams, who finished the season with 11 sacks and was the labeled as the most efficient pass rusher in college football, was one of those guys. The other guy was former five-star recruit from Leesburg, Virginia, Jonathan Allen.
Jonathan Allen wasn’t just another commitment when he decided to join the Alabama football program on May 12, 2012. He was a guy that the coaching staff had set their sights on, and they saw him as a transitional player that would help add to Alabama’s biggest weakness: the pass rush.
As good as Alabama’s defense had been since Saban took over the program, they had lacked a dominant pass rusher that could put pressure on opposing quarterbacks during critical points of the game. The coaching staff knew this problem needed to be addressed, and Allen was part of the solution.
Allen had a spectacular high school career in which he posted 308 tackles and 44 sacks for Stone Bridge High School in Leesburg, Virginia. After a dominant senior year which included 102 tackles and 15 sacks, Allen was named Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year. Despite all the attention, he never faltered on his commitment to the University of Alabama.
It’s hard to come in and contribute as a true freshman for Alabama. The talent and depth that has built up over the years has brewed one of the most competitive position-by-position rosters in all of college football. However, that didn’t stop Jonathan Allen from making an immediate impact.
As a true freshman in 2013, Allen played in every single game. While he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, he did finish with 15 tackles, three tackles for loss, 0.5 sack, one QB hit and one forced fumble. The flashes were already there, but Allen needed to gain weight to hold up in Alabama’s two-gapping, odd man front.
After playing his freshman year in the 260’s, Allen gained 10-15 pounds and the added weight made a difference. He was able to get more playing time and finished the season with 31 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, seven QB hits and one pass deflection.
Going into his junior year, he was already starting to generate some buzz among NFL circles. Allen didn’t disappoint. Despite playing on one of the deepest defensive lines in college football that frequently rotated players, Allen was still able to put up exceptional numbers. He finished the season with 36 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, six quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and three pass deflections.
According to Pro Football Focus, Allen finished as one of the best pass rushing 3-4 defensive ends in all of college football. In fact, he ranks as the number one pass rushing 3-4 end heading into next season.
Jonathan Allen is a very interesting prospect. Now 6-3 283, he is still a little light for a 3-4 defensive end, but he makes up for it with his skill set. His versatility has been one of his biggest attributes.
Former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart played Allen all along Alabama’s defensive front last year, and it allowed him to use Allen’s versatility to create mismatches. While it did put Allen in a better position to succeed, that didn’t stop opposing coordinators from trying to take Allen out of the play.
One of my favorite things about Allen is his motor. Even when plays were being run away from him, his effort was apparent in his backside pursuit. That type of energy is infectious for a defense, and it’s safe to say that led to a more energized defense over the course of last season.
As far as physical skills, Allen stands out in a number of ways. The first thing is his hand usage and how advanced it is at this point in his career. He is very active with his hands and uses a variety of moves to beat opposing offensive linemen. In addition, Allen doesn’t sacrifice violence with his hand usage just because they are active. He has mastered the push/pull move that most high school coaches preach to defensive linemen, and he compliments that ability with a strong rip move that gives opposing offensive linemen trouble.
While Allen has become known for his pass rushing ability, his run defense should not be overlooked. Despite his limited length, he shows the ability to anchor and hold the point of attack. Allen’s mastering of the leverage game gives him the opportunity to make plays in the run game as well as the passing game.
Allen’s balanced skill set makes him a perfect fit for Alabama’s two-gapping system. He controls his gap with force and constantly demands double-teams. On top of his ability to control the gap, Allen is also a technically sound player who has little to no wasted movement. This little to no wasted movement allows Allen to mask some of his athletic deficiencies.
As good as Allen has been for Alabama, there are some athletic deficiencies. First off, Allen lacks ideal length at the position. While that lack of length hasn’t been an issue up to this point, it does cause some concern for NFL scouts.
The second thing with Allen is his lack of explosiveness. He doesn’t even come close to possessing the get-off that fellow pass rusher Tim Williams has shown, and Allen also hasn’t shown the off the edge bend that is necessary to be an edge rusher on passing downs in the NFL. His quickness is limited, and that could also be a concern when NFL teams start to look deeper at his game film.
Allen is going to have to show that he can make plays boundary to boundary if he doesn’t want to be pegged as strictly a 3-4 defensive end. At this point, that might be easier said than done.
Allen is a quality player who doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves. While he may be limited to an interior role in the NFL, that doesn’t mean Allen won’t have value. He is at his best when playing the three-technique, and that is exactly where new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will use him a majority of the time.
With the Tide’s defensive front seven losing four starters, look for Allen to have a much bigger role for the defense in 2016. As of right now, Allen is a borderline first-round talent, but don’t be surprised if he climbs into the top half of the first round if he can show improvement in his inconsistent get-off.