It might not be borne out by raw statistics or production, but Seattle Seahawks defensive linemen Michael Bennett is widely considered one of the best in the league at what he does – in large part because he’s a movable chess piece who can play up and down Seattle’s front.
According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, the player in the Class of 2017 who most mirrors Bennett’s versatility is Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, who had 69 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 10½ sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2016.
“This comparison isn’t so much about skill-sets as it is roles in the NFL,” he said of the 6-foot-3, 286-pounder and potential Top 5 pick. “Allen and Bennett are different types of players, but Allen is at his best when schemed up and down the defensive line to attack blockers from different angles, similar to how Seattle uses Bennett.”
“Outstanding leader and athlete with an ability to rush the passer from outside or inside,” Zierlein said. “Has produced against the run and pass thanks to his strength, agility, elite hand usage and plus footwork. He might not be the cleanest fit inside as a full-time tackle for some teams, but his talent should trump any size concerns. Allen is a likely first-round selection with Pro Bowl potential down the road.”
Optimum Scouting went so far as to say that Allen might be the best defensive lineman in this year’s draft – a bold assertion. As they pointed out for the Sporting News, Allen’s ability to play inside and outside will all but surely appeal to a lot of teams.
“Allen might be best suited as a 3-4 five technique given his ability to crash rushing lanes and get to quarterbacks on third downs,” they wrote. “Elite hand strength and usage is Allen’s bread and butter, which allows him to effectively set the edge and keep blockers off his body.
“While he lacks ideal height and length for an edge defender, they said, “Allen can be successful as an end in a 4-3 scheme, too. His above-average agility and footwork provide insane leverage, which allows him to take on double teams and free up pass-rushers and run-stoppers alike.”
Despite an All-American season and near-lock status as a Day 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Allen returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior season. He told Nicholas Tolisano of Washington’s website he wanted to show that he was much more than the subpackage pass-rushing role he played for Alabama in 2015.
“I feel like I’m mentally prepared for whatever happens. At Alabama it’s definitely not the easiest thing to do for four years,” Allen said. “One of the biggest things was I was being listed as a third-down player. Not too many people considered me an every-down player and that kind of bothered me and put a chip on my shoulder. So I wanted to come back and prove I could do both and do them effectively.”
Mission accomplished. While Allen’s sacks dipped slightly from 2015 to 2016 (from 12 to 10½), his run defense improved markedly. He’s a complete player who appears more than capable of an every-down role in either a three or four-man front.
What’s not to like?
Well, while he talked up Allen’s abilities as a defender, one NFC director of player personnel told Zierlein he has his doubts about how he’ll hold up at the point of attack at the NFL level.
“He’s a really talented pass rusher but he’s always been surrounded by enough talent that it’s been hard for offenses to game plan their protection for him, he said. “He’s skilled and very fundamentally sound but I just worry about his size and how he holds up to NFL running games.”
Also, Alabama also has a tendency to – how shall I say this? – beat the ever-loving hell out of their players in practice. Many Crimson Tide stars enter the NFL banged up, and Allen is no exception. Allen suffered labrum tears in both shoulders at Alabama and now suffers from mild arthritis in them. But Alabama’s team doctor insisted to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that Allen’s long-term durability isn’t an issue.
“Jonathan has really played without symptoms in his shoulders, and it’s something that has not affected his performance or function,” Dr. E. Lyle Cain said. “It doesn’t have to be treated during the season. And he’s had a couple of great years. This is something that a lot of offensive linemen and defensive linemen have, things guys play with their whole careers. It’s just a little earlier for him because he got hurt in college.”
It’s possible that medical red flag could cause a mini-slide for Allen out of the Top 10 on April 27. But make no mistake. By the time festivities wind down on that first day of the 2017 NFL Draft, Allen will have a home. However, between those shoulders and Allen’s versatility, it’s difficult to peg down a landing spot or role for the big man.
Will he play end in the 3-4? A “hybrid” role like Bennett in the 4-3? Tackle like Cox? Only time will tell.
Given that uncertainty, Allen’s Individual Defensive Player (IDP) value in 2017 is also rather hard to nail down at this point. What isn’t in question though is his talent and motor. Once you get past the Top 20 or so defensive linemen in fantasy football, there are as many questions as answers. More, even. If you’re willing to risk the low fantasy floor borne of the slow starts many young defensive lineman get off to for the chance at a higher ceiling and cheaply obtained weekly starter, Allen is the type of DL3 target you should consider.
In dynasty IDP leagues, Allen probably won’t be the first rookie defensive lineman drafted in 2017. But he will be drafted – especially in leagues that require tackles if he winds up with positional eligibility at that position.