ASHBURN — The Redskins drafted Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen with the No. 17 pick in the 2017 NFL draft on Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Allen was widely projected to be among the top handful of picks with some mock drafts having him as high as No. 2 to San Francisco. But chronic shoulder issues became a worry for some teams. At 17, however, that was worth the risk for Washington.
“Never, really, in a million years did we think he’d be there at 17,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
Allen, 21, grew up in Pittsburgh with his mother and lived in South Carolina for a time. He eventually had to spend time in Foster care until his father gained full custody. After a short time in Chesapeake, Va., the family moved to Ashburn where Allen attended Stone Bridge High.
It’s only four miles from Stone Bridge to Redskins Park and Allen quickly became a fan. He drifted away from the team in recent years because he spent most of his time in Alabama and didn’t watch much football. But he remembers when the Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb in 2010 and spending the first days of training camp that summer watching the star quarterback at Redskins Park.
“It’s a blessing. This is something you only read about in books,” Allen said. “It doesn’t even seem real. For me to be going back home to Washington is, honestly, just the biggest blessing I could have ever received.”
Allen had 16 tackles for loss as a senior for the Crimson Tide and 10.5 sacks. He was twice named first-team All-Southeastern Conference. He finished second in the SEC that year with 12 sacks. This is a formidable talent whom the Redskins believe can bolster their woeful run defense, but will make his money as an inside pass rusher.
“I think that’s a steal,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on air Thursday. “This kid is an absolute fit in Washington.”
But the shoulder issues have dogged Allen. At the NFL Combine in March he answered one question after another about the two surgeries that repaired torn labrums and left him with arthritis in his left shoulder. That’s how a player who was a consensus top-five talent fell to the middle of the first round. But Allen insists that doctors have told him that will be an issue later in life. He doesn’t feel the arthritis affected him at all on the field at Alabama.
“I feel like it was definitely in the back of some teams’ minds,” Allen said. “But I don’t know. At this point I’m not even really worried about that. I’m really just blessed and happy to be a Washington Redskins right now. I’m looking to getting to work and proving that I believe.”
Allen said he patterns his game after Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He could have left Alabama after the 2015 season, but shoulder surgery was going to keep him from properly preparing for the Combine and there was a good chance, according to scouts Allen spoke with, that he’d fall to the second or third rounds.
“I felt like there was still things I needed and wanted to accomplish,” Allen said. “Looking back, there were still things I wanted to improve on in my game before I transitioned to the next level and I feel like I accomplished that.”
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