- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2017

As one offensive player after the next went off the board Thursday night, it became clear that the NFL Draft’s first round was shaping up in the Redskins’ favor. All they needed to complete their dream scenario was a feel-good angle, and they got it.

With the No. 17 overall pick in the 2017 draft, the Redskins selected Jonathan Allen, a Virginia-bred defensive end who was a stalwart of Alabama’s transcendent defenses and can provide immediate help.

“It’s a blessing,” Allen said, just minutes after he was taken. “It’s something you read about in books. It doesn’t even seem real. To be going back home to Washington is honestly just the biggest blessing I could have received.”

Coach Jay Gruden made the call to tell Allen he was their pick. With his fiancée, siblings, siblings’ families, aunts, uncles, friends and his high school coach surrounding him, Allen was overcome.

“I was so emotional, it was hard for me, I kind of blacked out,” he said.

Gruden, on the other end of the phone, initially thought they’d been cut off because Allen paused on the other end. He was as surprised as Allen.

“Never in a million years did we think he’d be there at 17 but we’re happy to say he was,” Gruden said. “Not a lot of debate in there.”

Allen could have left Alabama after his junior season and declared for the 2016 draft, but chose to play out his senior year with the Crimson Tide. He wound up a unanimous first-team All-American and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive player. He made 69 tackles, 16 of them for loss, and led the team with 10.5 sacks.

Allen was first-team All-SEC for the second year in a row, after finishing second in the conference with 12 sacks as a junior. His 28.5 career sacks in 57 games from 2013-16 rank second in Alabama history.

Some projections had Allen going inside the top 5, but medical concerns seemed to push him down the board. Allen has had surgery in both his shoulders to repair labral tears and still has moderate shoulder arthritis. He says his doctors have told him that, if at all, he will only be impacted 15-20 years down the road.

“It hasn’t affected me,” Allen said. “Especially this last year I didn’t even wear a brace for the season so it doesn’t affect me. Every team I’ve talked to [said my] shoulders were medically cleared, no problem.”

Gruden said that Dr. James Andrews, the Redskins doctor who has ties to Alabama, gave his approval and “thumbs up” that Allen’s shoulders wouldn’t be an issue.

The fact that Allen fell to No. 17, though, indicates that other teams had qualms. Allen was known as a team leader at Alabama and, with no other red flags, a player with his qualities would not normally escape the top 10.

After seven offensive players were selected in the top 10 and three quarterbacks were taken before No. 17, the Redskins wound up on the clock with several of the draft’s best defensive players still available. Allen can provide the kind of immediate help that the Redskins, whose defense ranked No. 28 in total yards last season, were looking for with their first-round selection.

“You talk about upgrading your defense, well, you have to pick a guy high,” Gruden said.

Allen is the first defensive player the Redskins have chosen in the first round since 2011, when they took two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins hadn’t selected a defensive lineman with their first pick in a draft since 2009 when the team selected Brian Orakpo, who ultimately wound up playing linebacker. The last player the Redskins drafted with their first pick along the defensive line who stayed there was defensive end Kenard Lang in 1997.

With Kerrigan and Allen in the same front-seven, the Redskins have the potential to create matchup problems with their defense that weren’t there last season. Gruden expects Allen to make an immediate impact.

“He’s the 17th pick in the draft. He will contribute tomorrow. Right now,” Gruden said.

When the Redskins chose, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and FSU running back Dalvin Cook were still available.

The question with Allen will be whether or not his size, 6-foot-3 and 286 pounds, will work in the NFL. Allen says he models his game after Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald, both of whom are not as tall or long as many NFL teams prefer along the defensive line but have succeeded nonetheless. In the NFL, Allen will also have to produce in an environment where his team’s defense has plenty of competition at or above its own level.

Allen can line up in multiple positions along the line, is technically proficient with good hands, and could help the Redskins against both the run and the pass. He said one major reason he returned for his senior year at Alabama was to improve his game against the run, as he wasn’t asked to defend the run much as a junior.

“That versatility is hard to find in this day and age in defensive linemen,” Gruden said. “It really is. Big bodied guys usually are just run-stoppers. They’re not capable of rushing the passer as effectively as he is and that’s a big need for us.”

Gruden had a conversation with Alabama coach Nick Saban the other week, when he didn’t think Allen would wind up available to the Redskins.

“Really it was wishful thinking, I thought,” Gruden said. “I said there’s no way, I don’t even want to ask questions about Jonathan. There’s no way he’s dropping. Luckily we did. And we know a lot about the kid. He’s a local kid.

“We’re tickled to death to get him.”

Allen, likewise, is tickled to be a Redskin.

Allen, who went to Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va. and was the 2012 Virginia Gatorade High School Player of the Year, grew up a Redskins fan.

“I went to the first summer practice when I watched Donovan McNabb when we first got Donovan McNabb so it’s just crazy that I’m actually going to be out there playing with them now,” Allen said.

The Redskins got a player who can help immediately in an area of need, one they never expected to be available, and Allen will get his homecoming.

“This is just a great pick,” Gruden said. “It’s a no-brainer. You’re taking a great person, a great player, a big body, a guy that can do a little bit of everything on defensive line.”

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