Every up-and-coming football star has wanted to sit in the green room at the NFL draft, knowing that he is a top prospect and that within the next few hours he will officially be an NFL player. But according to defensive end Jonathan Allen, just sitting there takes a lot of patience.
Experts had the Alabama standout going somewhere in the top seven picks, but on draft night he was still available when the Chiefs had the 10th pick. And when the Colts had the 15th pick. “Draft night was a long night,” Allen says. “It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but man it was a long night, and that’s the biggest thing I remember.”
Allen had undergone shoulder surgery two weeks before the NFL combine, which made many scouts worry about his ability to play. “According to all of the scouts, Jonathan Allen was [projected to go] in the top 10 picks of the draft, so we didn’t think we would have a chance to pick him,” says senior vice president of football operations Doug Williams, the Redskins’ former Hall of Fame quarterback. “Not only was Jonathan there, but so was the guy we were focusing on….Both were great defensive players, but Jonathan was a no-brainer.”
Allen had played for the Crimson Tide for four years, filling up his trophy case along the way. His senior season in 2016 was arguably his best: He racked up 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks en route to winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player), the Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), the Chuck Bednarik award (defensive player of the year), a unanimous All-America nod, and his third consecutive spot on the All-SEC defensive team.
Washington selected Allen 17th overall in the 2017 draft. Williams says the team did “all the research they possibly [could] with the training staff...and with all the team doctors,” before even pondering whether he would be a good draft choice.
Says Allen, “When I saw the Redskins on the board [on draft night], I was silently [thinking], ‘I’m gonna be upset if they don’t take me; I would love to go back home,’ so when they did call me it was a great feeling.”
Growing up in Loudoun county, a suburb of Washington D.C., Allen had been a Redskins fan since he was young, going to watch training camp but never thinking he would ever actually be on that same field. “It [has been] surreal—probably the first home game [during this year’s preseason] was when I realized it was cool as heck, and it’s honestly a dream come true.”
The interesting part is that when asked whom his favorite player was growing up, his immediate response was former Colts and Rams Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk; his favorite Redskins were former tight end Chris Cooley and former running back Clinton Portis.
His parents divorced when Allen was young, and Allen and his older brother, Richard III, stayed with their mother. It was hard for her to keep the boys safe and fed and warm, so after a while of hopping from hotel to hotel, Jonathan and Richard ended up going into foster care when Jonathan was eight.
Their father, Richard, who was in the Army, won custody of them in 2004, when Jonathan was nine. Football brought the family back together.
Allen’s family has always been very supportive in all of the decisions he has made, including when it came time to choose a college to attend. He accepts that he had a tough childhood, but he says that “there’s a reason for everything...and I just used it as motivation to live out my dream [of playing football].”
Technically, his life is not only about football, as he is also an avid gamer. When he was a kid, Allen loved to play Call of Duty, Total War, and Dynasty War with his brother. “If it was a good game, I played it,” Allen recalls. Now his go-to console is the computer, and one of his most recent purchases was a $10,000 gaming computer. He mainly plays the same games now, and of course he is super excited for the new Call of Duty game coming out in a few months.
Washington coach Jay Gruden had nothing but praise for his new defensive end, who started and had four tackles in the Redskins’ opener, a loss to the Eagles. “He’s a massive man who plays extremely hard, and I expect him to play well,” says Gruden. “He’s at the perfect weight, he’s strong, and he’s got a quick twitch. He’s quality, A1 personality, dependable, accountable, all those things that you need [in a teammate]. He’s as good as anybody we have.”
Photographs by (from top): Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Elsa/Getty Images; Noah Shubert