This week Avery Duncan of Raising Arizona created an excellent 5 play analysis of the Cardinals’ 3rd Round draft pick, DE Zach Allen of Boston College. Duncan asserts that the 5 plays he analyzed “define Zach Allen” as a highly versatile and relentless defender.
As a Boston College alum who has watched every one of Zach Allen’s games, I was ecstatic to see the Cardinals draft Allen at #65 as I believe that Allen is one of the top 10 most productive defensive players in this draft.
In 2017 when NFL teams were heavily scouting DE Harold Landry, what likely caught their attention was the highly productive play of Zach Allen, the DE opposite Landry. In 2017 (coming off a 36 tackle, 10.0 tackles for loss, 6 sack sophomore season), Zach Allen recorded an extraordinary 100 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception and 3 pass deflections.
As a senior, with Landry now in the NFL, Zach Allen was consistently double teamed. But, despite the double teams, Allen recorded 61 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 interception, 18 batted passes, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble.
What Harold Landry and Zach Allen would tell you is how much they benefitted from the instruction of their defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni (former Cleveland Browns and Syracuse head coach who was hired last year by Matt Patricia to be the Lions’ defensive line coach).
With Zack Allen, not only do the Cardinals get a player who puts everything he has into every snap, they get a well-trained technician as well.
Avery Duncan beautifully highlights Allen’s technique in this article---so yourself a favor and watch the 5 plays that Duncan provides.
Here are my comments on the 5 plays:
Play 1---Allen is at LDE playing a 9 technique---it’s a sweep to his side---watch the textbook way in which he sets the edge, strings the play out and makes the tackle.
Play 2---Allen is at RDE in a 5 technique versus Clemson---QB Trevor Lawrence tries to sucker Allen to bite inside off play action, which Allen does not over-commit to and when he sees it is play action, he make a rush at Lawrence and when Lawrence quickly sets up to pass, Allen stops his rush, leaps and bats the ball right back into Lawrence’s arms and then tackles Lawrence on the spot. What this play highlights is Allen’s playmaking instincts and body control.
Play 3---Allen is lined up inside in a 3 technique versus Miami---he gets an outstanding jump off the snap, performs an effective swim move on the guard and quickly converges on the QB, who has to rush the throw.
Play 4---Allen is at LDE versus Notre Dame---Avery Duncan points out that it is plays like this that caused Allen to slide in the draft---but there is a context here that Duncan may have not known when he watched this play. On this drive, the Notre Dame dual-threat QB Brandon Wimbush had just previously converted two 3rd downs on lengthy scrambles. Thus, what we see here is Zach Allen executing a “controlled edge rush”---where he bull rushed the tackle, gets chipped by the RB, but maintains his control rush so as not to lose contain on Wimbush, and when Wimbush starts to make his throw, Allen chucks the tackle aside and makes an inside move to the QB. Duncan is correct that on this play Allen does not show edge speed or bend---but---in a controlled rush---he is not being asked to do that.
Play 5---Allen is at RDE versus Temple---and here, as Duncan attests, Allen does a superb job of converting power to speed and bend around the edge for a sack. Duncan goes as far to say that there are times that Allen somewhat resembles J.J. Watt. I can’t tell you the number of times I felt that while watching Allen at BC.
During the 2018 season, Zach Allen was projected as a 1st round pick. In my opinion, two things caused him to slide to pick #65: (1) Allen incurred a knee injury in the last game of the season and he tried his best to come back from it in time for the Senior Bowl. Allen was not going to play in BC’s bowl game, which was cancelled due to lightning anyway. But he was doing everything he could to make it to Mobile. At the Senior Bowl, Allen did not show the kind of power and explosion he had showcased during the last two seasons; (2) I do not think he was fully recovered for the NFL Combine, where he ran a 5.0 40, which again hurt his stock. His other numbers at the Combine were not quite as strong as I would have expected based on his game speed and explosion: 32” vertical, 112” broad jump, 7.34 3 cone, 4.36 20 yard shuttle. When 100% healthy, I think Allen’s numbers would come closer to J.J. Watt’s: 4.84 40, 37” vertical, 120” broad jump, 6.88 3 cone, 4.21 20 yard shuttle.
As far as physical measurements go (per their Combine results):
Watt---6-5, 290, 34” arms, 11 1/8” hands
Allen---6-4, 281, 34 3/4” arms, 10 1/8” hands
While it would be quite a reach to compare any college prospect to J.J. Watt, not only at times does Zach Allen make J.J. Watt type of plays, Allen’s production at BC in 2018 was almost identical to Watt’s during his final year at Wisconsin. Watt had 62 tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss, 7 sacks and 1 interception in 13 games. Allen had 61 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 1 interception in 11.5 games---having to miss most of the second half of his last game of the season due to the knee injury.
In terms of their final 2 year production Watt in 26 games had 106 tackles, 36.0 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and 1 interception, while Allen in 25 games had 161 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and 2 interceptions.
One other thing of note---Boston College rarely if ever took Zach Allen off the field. In the case of Harold Landry, they used him in a strict rotation, playing him about 2/3 of the defensive snaps.
Allen not only has a relentless motor, his stamina is off the charts.
I believe that as soon as Zach Allen assimilates into Vance Jospeph’s defense, he will be the starter for the Cardinals at LDE or RDE in their 34 base. Plus, he will have a versatile role in the nickel, both as an inside and edge rusher.
Thanks Avery Duncan for your excellent work. You gave us a good close look at Zach Allen’s playmaking ability