Analyzing the tape of college football's best players... and the NFL's future stars.

Futures: Josh Allen

Futures: Josh Allen
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen carries the perfect profile to suggest he will be a top-five pick. Not only was he productive in the SEC and impressive at the NFL combine, but Allen's film shows one obvious, valuable strength as well as positional fluidity. Productive, athletic pass-rushers with a clear calling card tend not to fall far in the draft, even without the added versatility Allen provides.

In three seasons as a starter at Kentucky, Allen terrorized quarterbacks and ballcarriers alike with 31 sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss. His senior season was particularly absurd as he ripped off 17.0 sacks, second in the nation behind Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson (17.5) and first among Power 5 players by a wide margin, dwarfing the 11.5 sacks of Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Clemson's Clellin Ferrell.

Allen continued his spreadsheet success at the NFL combine. Measuring in at a sturdy 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, he ripped off a 4.63-second 40-yard dash (90th percentile) and a 4.23-second 20-yard shuttle (83rd percentile). His 118-inch broad jump (67 percentile) and 7.15-second three-cone drill (63rd percentile) were not quite as impressive, but he certainly did not hurt himself with those figures. As advertised by his film, Allen proved at the combine to be a fast, fluid player who thrives in space and has enough bend to win around the edge as a pass-rusher.

On film, Allen is one of the easier evaluations of this class because it is clear what he is excellent at. He is a speed rusher to the core. Allen wants to attack an offensive tackle's outside shoulder, rip his hands away when the tackle tries to engage, and dip around the edge to break free into the pocket. With this one thing, this one move, Allen feels unstoppable at times.

Sometimes all it takes is Allen's sheer speed. He can fly off the line and chew up a considerable amount of ground with his first few steps, which can be especially overwhelming when he is aligned wide before the snap.

via Gfycat

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Allen (bottom) is in a stand-up position outside of the tight end before this snap. In just a few steps, Allen works deep past the line of scrimmage and forces the offensive tackle to completely turn his hips outside to catch Allen, which is something a tackle should never want to do. Allen is barely grazed by the tackle before he gets fully around the arc and pounces on the quarterback.

via Gfycat

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Now Allen is at the top of the screen in a three-point stance, but still in a wide alignment as in the last clip. Once again, he eats up a ton of ground with his first few steps and makes the tackle turn his hips outside early in the rep. Allen does catch more deterrence from the tackle in this play than in the last, which is why he only gets the hit and pressure instead of a sack. Regardless, that Allen can have an impact on a play where the quarterback gets the ball out so quickly is tantalizing for defensive coordinators.

Other times, Allen needs a little more than just his speed. Tackles will not always give him the immediate outside edge; he has to be able to work free from their grip and find a way to bend through the contact. His technique and consistency in that regard is impressive.

Allen does not get such a wide alignment in the following play. Instead, he is head-up over the tight end at the top of the screen and does not have as much of a natural angle on the tackle. He must be able to generate the outside angle on his own.

via Gfycat

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Allen opens the play by approaching the right tackle directly, which he did not have to do on the previous two plays. Allen rips down the tackle's arms and continues the charge by dipping his inside shoulder into the tackle's chest, getting low, and bending around the edge to work back into the pocket. The quarterback tries to slide up to avoid him, but Allen uses his free outside arm to force the strip sack.

It does not take a trained football eye to see how devastating Allen can be as a pure speed rusher on plays such as these. The problem, however, is that he does not have much else in his arsenal. Countermoves are almost nonexistent throughout Allen's film catalog, and it is rare to ever see him deviate from his natural approach of going straight for an offensive tackle's outside shoulder. He does not know how to react when his bread-and-butter is taken from him.

via Gfycat

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Take this rep versus Florida's Martez Ivey, for example. Allen (bottom) is in a wide alignment and, of course, wants to rip and dip through Ivey's outside shoulder. However, Ivey makes sure to take a set off the snap and try to take away Allen's calling card from the jump. Though Allen surely sees Ivey gets a bead on him, he does not adjust his approach, nor does he have the raw strength to power through the well-positioned blocker. Allen tries to run the arc like he always does and promptly gets put in the dirt.

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To take it a step further, here is an example of Allen (top) being slightly chipped by a tight end and having no answer for it. Rather than adjusting to work through or inside the tackle now that the tackle can comfortably play the edge, Allen tries to continue working outside. The tackle has no problem running Allen into the ground the same way Ivey did because he has a clean grip on him.

The lack of variety and adaptability from Allen is concerning. It is nice for him to have his speed-rushing to lean on, but NFL tackles will more consistently be able to take that away from him. If he can not develop a wider array of pass-rush moves and show he can switch up his approach, his ceiling will be capped as a pass-rusher.

Thankfully for Allen, the entirety of his value is not tied into rushing the passer. Allen projects to be more of an outside linebacker or stand-up edge player, a role that will ask him to bring more than pass-rushing skills. During his time at Kentucky, Allen was regularly asked to be a stand-up outside linebacker, or even an apex player, and play in coverage. Whichever NFL team drafts him will likely be looking to do the same with him.

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Here is an example of Allen (top) handling a simple shallow crosser. Allen starts in a stand-up position outside the left tackle before the snap, then trails off into coverage around the left hash. Once he gains proper depth for his drop, he immediately looks to play what is in front of him and follows the crosser. Allen then closes the gap when the quarterback goes to throw the shallow crosser and bats the ball out of the slot receiver's hands.

Now for the more difficult coverage assignments. In the following play, Allen (bottom) is in a stand-up position outside the tight end and is tasked with following him in man coverage.

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Though it seems like the tight end blows by Allen at the start of play, that is in part by design because Allen knows he has safety help over the top. His job is to play underneath and inside the tight end. As such, when the tight end breaks to the left on a corner route, it is on Allen to undercut the route and break up the pass. In a display of great speed and open-field fluidity, Allen does just that. This play can be difficult even for safeties, much less a pass-rushing outside linebacker. A good defensive coordinator will properly weave Allen into coverage at the right time and catch offenses by surprise.

As for run defense, Allen is sound, though not overpowering. He can set the edge fairly well and generally does a fine job of being in the right gap at the right time. He is a boring run defender, in many respects, but the blandness in his run defense is not necessarily bad, it just means he is doing his job and nothing more.

Most of Allen's exciting moments in run defense come when he gets a chance to use his speed to make plays in the backfield.

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This kind of backside hustle from Allen (bottom) is part of what makes Jadeveon Clowney an excellent run defender. Allen is not terribly similar to Clowney overall, but this ability to close on slow-developing run plays from the backside will serve Allen well. When offenses know they cannot leave him unblocked on the backside of run concepts, some running plays will have to be taken out of the game plan for the week, while others may require an adjustment to deal with him.

The full scope of Allen's skill set is difficult to put in perspective. He has a devastating speed-rush, but has yet to show the requisite variety that a top-tier pass-rusher needs. Likewise, he is a solid run defender and shows the positional versatility to be a stand-up coverage player, but those are not the primary reasons to draft Allen -- he is being drafted primarily to rush the passer.

His particular blend of traits puts him somewhere between the spectrum of Bruce Irvin and Anthony Barr. Irvin is a pure speed-rusher who can survive in run defense and provide sneaky good coverage in the flat, even if forced to match up the sideline. Barr is a college pass-rusher who transitioned to a true off-ball linebacker role in the NFL, where his play in space and value as a blitzer became his defining traits.

Allen's skill set is an unusual confluence of versatility and limitations; of increased value in the area of least value and decreased value in the area of most value for his position. Justifying him as a top-five pick over more complete pass-rushers is a tough ask. It will require a fair amount of development and creative deployment for Allen to match the overall value of his pass-rushing peers at the top of this class. Though he has the makings of a good defender, drafting an incomplete pass-rusher such as Allen in the top five is not an ideal draft strategy.


14 comments, Last at 08 Apr 2019, 10:03pm

12 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Perhaps, but the story sounds similar. One has the big arm but can't throw accurately. The other can speed rush but can't adjust for good blocking. Bust potential.

13 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

You should watch the rest of that Florida tape. He had the sack/fumble that clinched the game. Having watched the Florida game tape and others, I think this article overstates Allen's issues. The article on the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is more accurate, fairer and much more optimistic on Allen's chances.

I would add that accuracy is a trait that almost never gets better in the NFL. Speed and bend ability are also traits that do not improve in the Pros, but pass rush moves can be added by players with good coaching. Both Allen and Jaylon Ferguson need to add more pass rush moves; improving his spin move would really help Allen when he's get flushed past the QB, and Ferguson needs to add something besides his go-to bull rush move. But at least Allen will use a bull rush move, one that will get him close to a quarterback but usually not the sack; Ferguson is the true one trick pony in this draft, which is why he will be drafted somewhere between the second and fourth rounds.

Bottom line, I think Allen's bust potential is being overstated here. Aside from injuries, his floor is Bruce Irvin with Anthony Barr's ability to cover, which isn't a true bust but a disappointment in a player picked 3rd in the draft. His ceiling is Von Miller.

2 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Interesting take, it’s the first time I haven’t heard Allen being mentioned as a top 3 to 5 player in the draft or as a big risk, but it’s a well-reasoned case. Hope he goes to the Jets

7 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Lol. Yeah even if the Jets take another Trash Allen-level sized bust who is also ironically called Josh Allen, unfortunately that mistake isn’t nearly as drastic as the Bills’. Seeing as QB is a far more important position, things still wouldn’t quite be fair if it panned our that way

9 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Personally, I hope both of them work out. I wouldn't mind seeing a bunch of passing duels between the Jets and Bills, it would remind me of the 80s. I think this Josh Allen is much more likely to work out than the Bills quarterback though. I'd prefer if the Jets traded down, but this article is a little too negative on Allen's chances; I'm thinking Sackseer likes Josh Allen a lot, since he had 17 sacks last year while still dropping in coverage a bunch. Also, pass rushing moves can be learned, the traits Allen has (speed and bend) cannot.

10 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Yeah I actually don’t think he’s that high-risk of a player either (PFF loves him), but I think the article makes a good point that he’s simply not the complete player you would like someone to be as a top 5 pick. I think it’s probably inarguable he’s a top 10, 15 player in the draft still.

Unlike the Buffalo Josh Allen, who should have been universally regarded as a 2nd round pick at best. To be fair, he was better than I expected last year and there’s a lot of room for the eternally hopeless optimism that we Bills fans continually get sucked through. Regardless of how he pans out, however, the process and value given up to obtain him can never be justified

3 Re: Futures: Josh Allen

Interesting take, it’s the first time I haven’t heard Allen being mentioned as a top 3 to 5 player in the draft or as a big risk, but it’s a well-reasoned case. Hope he goes to the Jets