Alabama's Jonathan Allen poised to be nation's best interior defender
In Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama saw two of the best players in the nation on the defensive interior drafted in the second round of the NFL draft. For most teams, that would represent a devastating loss on their defensive line, but in typical Alabama fashion, the Crimson Tide have players waiting in the wings, ready to take their place among the best defensive players to come from the school. One such player is Jonathan Allen, and there’s every chance we’ll be talking about him as a high draft pick in the NFL very soon. With the season just days away, let’s break down his game:
Impressive sophomore season
The realization that Allen is ready for a huge year doesn’t just come from his impressive 2015 season. He was a huge part of the Alabama defensive line rotation as a sophomore back in 2014 too, starting the ball rolling in what is quickly becoming an impressive college career. 244 of his 502 snaps came as a 4-3 defensive end that year, and Allen handled the position fine. Doing a lot of damage as a pass rusher, Allen finished the year with seven sacks, eight hits and 26 hurries on 322 pass rushing snaps. Our pass rushing productivity signature stat takes into account pressure on a per-snap basis, with weighting towards sacks and hits, giving a better indication of productivity than sack numbers alone, and Allen ranked 21st among 4-3 defensive ends in college as a sophomore.
He had some poor games, grading negatively as a pass rusher five times over the 2014 season, but he also had games where he simply took over. The game against Tennessee was huge, with Allen racking up two hits and seven hurries on just 25 pass rushing snaps. A constant presence in the Tennessee backfield, despite not registering a sack, he was a destructive force in this game.
More consistency as a junior
2015 saw a slight change in how Allen was used, as Alabama moved him inside more, with 229 of his 401 snaps coming on the interior. Allen took to the role well, grading higher than he did in the 2014 season both against the run and as a pass rusher. Against the run he registered a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 6.8 percent of the running plays he was on the field for, the 20th-best mark of any returning player in the nation on the defensive interior.
It was as a pass-rusher where he truly stood out once again though, providing a strong pass rush up the middle for the Alabama defense. Registering 13 sacks, six hits and 17 hurries on 251 pass rushing snaps. After ranking 21st among 4-3 defensive ends in 2014, Allen’s pass rushing productivity rating of 12.1 was good enough for fourth in the nation among players on the defensive interior. A monster as an interior pass-rusher, he didn’t really get enough credit with Reed and Robinson on that defensive line last year.
He took over the game against Texas A&M, both against the run as a pass rusher, finishing the game with two sacks and two hurries, including this sack and forced fumble on a huge hit on quarterback Kyle Allen after beating right guard Joseph Cheek inside. He gets away with a pull on Cheek’s jersey very early on, but is past him so quick that it would have been tough for the officials to spot. That explosion into the quarterback forced the fumble, and is a big part of why Allen could develop into one of the best players in the nation in 2016.
Versatility is key
Allen played primarily as a 4-3 defensive end in 2014, he played primarily as a 3-4 defensive end in 2015. What we’ve seen from him over the past two years is a player who can fill in on pretty much any spot on the defensive line, and do it well. Nose tackle? Played it. 3-tech? Played it. 5-tech? Ditto. He even spent time outside the offensive tackles and a little bit in a two point stance. Allen has been asked to fill a number of roles by the Alabama defense and he’s still graded out as one of the best interior defenders in the nation.
That versatility is key not only for his ability to be a moveable, and disruptive, weapon on the Alabama defensive line, but also for his NFL prospects. Teams in the NFL are always looking for players who can move around a defensive front and Allen has shown that consistently over the past two year. With a solid sophomore season, and an even better junior season under his belt, Jonathan Allen is ready to take the next step and cement his status as arguably the best player on the defensive interior in all of college football in 2016.