Nick Bosa may be the top edge prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft class but Kentucky’s Josh Allen is a close second, and Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor Jackson Block showcases clips of Allen’s gifted play.
Long, strong, and graceful in space, Josh Allen is an athletic freak who set Kentucky’s single-season (14) and career sack records (28.5). He’s not just a pass rusher. He can set the edge at the point of attack and anchor gaps when stunting or playing various shades on the interior of the defensive line.
Although Nick Bosa is widely considered the top edge prospect in this class, Allen should be at least a top-10 draft pick in this year’s draft. Allen has a Pro-Bowl ceiling and this post will break down what gives Allen this immense potential as well as the things that can be fine-tuned to ensure he maximizes his potential.
Allen possesses a twitchiness/burst that overwhelms offensive tackles. This speed rush is the best part about his game and undoubtedly going to translate very well at the next level. He forces offensive linemen to react quickly from their stance and almost always causes a vertical set from the tackle.
He often times draws holding calls because his first-step is so physically imposing. Allen’s physical gives creates a lot of opportunities for inside counters and power moves. We’ll discuss how multi-dimensional he is a pass rusher later.
Because of his special burst, he can be game-wrecker against the run if not blocked.
Allen’s bend is truly special and something you can’t coach. At 6’5”, he was already blessed with the length to play on the outskirts of a lineman’s frame, but being the athlete he is it allows him to dip underneath the initial punch of an offensive tackle at an angle that almost no lineman can match (often drawing holding calls as seen here).
These are skills that will translate immediately to the NFL.
Athletic and Diagnostic Versatility
Allen’s explosive athletic ability leaps off the screen and grabs you by the collar. He also possesses the football smarts to diagnose, react, and finish plays efficiently when aligned in open space. Here’s a “bubble screen” where, like a seasoned cornerback, Allen disrupts the play with great closing speed and physicality, driving the blocker into the receiver to break up the football.
Here’s a situation where he uses his speed and athleticism to accelerate past would-be blockers on a stunt/game and it creates a tackle-for-loss-opportunity.
Allen’s future defensive coordinator can utilize these skills early in Allen’s career. It will create an added dimension of production that could somewhat compensate for areas where Allen’s transition will require more time — adding weight to his frame and developing better use of his hands.
Although not there yet, Allen has the ability to become a three-down player. This includes the skill to carry a receiver downfield in man coverage. Although the ball is not intended for who he’s covering below, Allen shows the ability to stay hip to hip and play the correct shoulder of his man (had the ball been thrown).
Allen can also become an effective piece in a zone coverage scheme. He shows great zone awareness here and the ability to retrace his steps and make a break on the football.
An athlete with Allen’s explosion, vision, and range can help a defensive unit become more versatile with each of its looks in the same way that a running back who can play like a slot receiver causes problems for the defense.
Flashes Three-Dimensional Pass Rushing
Although it’s not on an every-down basis, Allen can tap into the bag of tricks and execute a plethora of beautiful moves. On this rush against South Carolina, Allen sets the lineman up with inside jab/head fake and causes the tackle to shoot his hands and stop his feet. This allows Allen to defeat hands and bend the corner with speed and accelerate through the quarterback.
Against Mizzou, Allen shows great hand usage, utilizing a violently explosive “snatch and pull”. He gets his inside arm to extend on the inner part of the tackle’s breastplate and gets his outside arm to the outer part to set up his snatch. He then pulls 70 towards and away from his frame and fights to brings his hips through with the finishing rip technique.
When it comes to pass rushing, the techniques can be taught; elite athletic prowess cannot. The fact that Allen is already developing a library of moves gives him a bright future.
Not Yet Fully Dimensional as A Pass Rusher
Allen will enjoy a long and successful career in the National Football League that includes several Pro Bowl berths, a large handful of double-digit sack seasons, and many plays that help his team win football games. However, like any player, Allen still has things he can improve on to completely reach his Pro Bowl ceiling.
Allen has a great speed rush but he is a tad raw when it comes to drawing upon a variety of pass rush moves. He doesn’t have a go-to inside counter/power move and doesn’t consistently transition from speed-to-power. It means he often gets stuck in his speed rush and doesn’t have the confidence to press back inside to the level of the QB or spin back inside on a consistent basis.
On this rush below, Allen is a little late diagnosing pass. When he does recognize it, he gets stuck in his speed rush and doesn’t press back inside. He must “refuse to be blocked,” especially when the pass protection scheme leaves him one-on-one with the tight end.
If he gets his inside arm back to extension and then presses the outside shoulder of the tight end, he easily has the strength through his upper half to throw a tackle let alone and tight end by and make that play on Franks.
Again, Allen gets a little too caught up trying to win with speed. He finds himself getting past the depth of the quarterback when instead he should press back inside with his inside arm. Or, if it were a deeper route concept with a deeper launch point, he could spin back inside because he opens up the shoulders of the right tackle (“opens the gate”) towards the outside, leaving the inside path to the QB wide open.
Pad Level And Consistent Hand Usage
Being a taller, longer defender, Allen finds himself playing a little high from a pad-level standpoint at times. And he also doesn’t always use his hands the best and finds himself with the arms of a T-Rex on certain occasions. This lets blockers get into his frame and drive him off the ball at the point of attack — even against a tight end.
Although the tight end loses his footing, his physicality, low pad level, and suddenness off the snap still drive Allen 3-4 yards off the ball. Allen needs to begin the play with a better stance.
The tight end’s alignment is low and enables him can shoot out and play through Allen’s breastplate before Allen can ever get his hands to initial extension. If he gets low, he can match the TE’s leverage and can be better prepared to shoot his hands, which will ultimately allow him to stack, anchor and shed and then make a play down the line.
More Consistency as a Pass Dropper
While Allen shows good stuff on tape as a pass dropper, he still lacks a complete consistency in this aspect of his game. Here, he gets sucked inside by the tight end settling in the “soft spot” and doesn’t recognize the crossing route coming from the other side of the field, which is ultimately his responsibility.
Allen is a tremendous pass rusher and will be highly successful on Sundays. However, he doesn’t always finish every opportunity that he’s presented with. Allen shows off a beautiful finesse move with special bend and leans around the arc towards the quarterback, only for all this to be totally thrown to the wayside because he leaves his feet instead of accelerating through the belt/hip of the quarterback with his outside arm coming down over the top to ensure the tackle.
If Allen fixes the minor flaws in his game and continues to perfect his craft, double-digit sacks and Pro-Bowl invitations will be a consistent part of his future.
Comparing Allen to another pro is a little tricky because when I initially watching him with his hand in the dirt and getting after the quarterback, he reminded me a lot of the great Simeon Rice, who had a similar frame and athletic ability.
Rice played in a 4-3 scheme, but I think Allen will be a 3-4 hybrid outside linebacker in the NFL. If he plays in a 4-3 scheme (which is possible but less likely) or a team uses him only as a pass rusher, the Rice comparison will be more compelling.
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