After a prolific college career at Alabama, Jonathan Allen was expected to have his name called early in the 2017 NFL Draft. But a drop down the boards made the Redskins' decision easy to select him.
"Never in a million years" did Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden believe Jonathan Allen – the top player on the team's draft board – would be available when the 17th-overall pick rolled around in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Allen had originally entered the 2016 NFL Draft before deciding to return to Alabama for his senior season.
The 6-foot-3, 286 pounder was dominant in his return to Tuscaloosa, finishing his senior season with 69 tackles along with 15 quarterback hits, 10.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries. For his efforts during the 2016 season, Allen's trophy case significantly expanded, as he was named the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, the Chuck Bednarik Award winner and the Ted Hendricks Award winner.
Additionally, Allen was a unanimous first-team All-American selection who finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.
During the early stages of the draft process, it appeared Allen would be the No. 2-overall pick. But once Thursday's draft started to unwind, including the Chicago Bears unexpectedly trading up to the second pick to select University of North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, Allen's name still hadn't been called entering the third hour of the draft.
Then he got a phone call from a familiar area code.
"I was so emotional, it was hard for me," said Allen, a Loudoun County native. "I kind of blacked out, I feel like, so I don't really remember the specifics of what was said. But I do remember him saying, 'We didn't think we'd get you but we're blessed and lucky to have you.' And I said, 'No, I'm lucky that you took me.' But it was a great conversation."
Adding an impact defensive lineman in the offseason was a priority for the Redskins and Allen will fit that mold.
Check out these photos of the Redskins selecting Jonathan Allen in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
"There really wasn't anything not to like, really," Gruden said of Allen. "We like his size, we like his strength, we like his ability to rush the passer, play the run. He's a very versatile guy – he can play all the positions on defensive line."
Allen is the first defensive player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Redskins since Washington picked Ryan Kerrigan No. 16 in 2011.
Washington's offense, of course, is one of the most potent attacks in the NFL today, but Gruden's hope is that the addition of Allen – coupled with the likes of Kerrigan and cornerback Josh Norman – will help improve the defense immediately.
"You talk about our front, we have guys that can play the run pretty good, but this guy can do everything," Gruden said. "He can line up at a three, he can line up at a five, he can line up at a nose if you want him to. He can stunt, he can play the run, but he can rush the passer. In the last two years, I think he has 22.5 sacks, 25 or 30 more hurries on the quarterback and that versatility is hard to find this day and age in defensive linemen, it really is. Big bodied guys usually are just run stoppers, they're not able to rush the passer as effectively as he is. And that's a big need for us."
Allen hopes to create his own legacy now that he's in the NFL, but he's closely watched some of the top players in the trenches to see how they attack opponents, notably Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
"Just the mentality that they had going into every play," Allen said of what he gathered watching their game film. "I mean, you never see those guys take a play off. Just their tenacity and how they play they play the game is just what I love about them the most."
Allen is known for his work ethic in preparation for individual games and an entire season-long slate, but sliding down to No. 17 will add a little extra motivation. He admitted that when the Redskins appeared on-deck to pick, his hope was that Washington would be the one to get him onto stage with a No. 1 jersey. But to be a top-rated talent that went mid-round adds fuel to the fire.
"For me, my motivation is to prove why the Redskins were right and smart for drafting me," Allen said. "That's going to be my motivation. So, I mean, it's definitely going to sit in the back of my mind, but I have a job and I have a business to do, and that's what I'm going to do."
And to play for the team he rooted so passionately for growing up still feels like a surreal moment for Allen.
"It's only something you read about in books – it doesn't even seem real," Allen said. "For me to be going back home to Washington, it's honestly just the biggest blessing I could have ever received."