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Cowboys 2012 Draft Prospects: Illinois OT-OG Jeff Allen

Jeff Allen: a study in concentration
Jeff Allen: a study in concentration

In case you haven't noticed, the Cowboys have taken a long look at every interior lineman in the 2012 draft's top 50 players--with the possible exception of David DeCastro. Because of this, I feel very strongly that, unless someone with a solid first-round grade falls to them at # 45, they'll use that pick to take one of the guards or centers we've looked at in the past few days. The last of these second-round possibilities is Illinois OT-OG Jeff Allen.

Allen was second-team All-Big Ten in 2011, a season that marked his fourth as a starter at offensive tackle (he accumulated 47 consecutive starts). Over his career, Allen was consistently graded by his coaches as the squad's best offensive lineman, across categories: assignment, technique, and effort. For the past three seasons, he played left tackle for the Illini, but will almost certainly be moved to guard in the pros. Indeed, coaches at the Senior Bowl kicked him inside and scouts noted that he looked much more comfortable in confined spaces. Athletically, Allen's an above-average tackle but a very good guard.

Allen is a natural bender, and gets his base down, which will be useful when he's bull rushed by NFL tackles. That said, he's much more NFL-ready as a pass blocker than as a road grader in the running game. This is because he displays remarkable coordination for such a big man, and boasts what scouts call "heavy hands": when he gets his mitts on an opponent, he's hard to dislodge. Here's Allen in action, in a Fox Sports draft preview; here he is showing his stuff at the Combine, where he registered solid numbers: 5.28 forty; 27 inch vertical; 26 reps at 225 pounds.

Despite his mediocre measurables, Allen is intriguing because of his experience and versatility (as the "weakside" tackle, he played both left and right tackle in Illinois' system). And, although he's not an imposing physical specimen, his tape shows that Allen always finds a way to get the job done. Because of these disparities, Allen is one of those prospects that will demand extra time and film study from scouts. I can see why the Cowboys wanted to take a closer look.

Check out what our panel of draftniks has to say about Allen's game (after the jump, of course)...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 9th-rated OG; 72nd overall

A thick, girthy offensive lineman who has experience at both right and left tackle. Doesn't possess a real athletic looking frame, most of his weight is right through the midsection and looks a bit sloppy. However, he can bend, plays low in pass protection and does a nice job keeping his base down on his kick slide and through contact. Possesses natural coordination and heavy hands through contact when asked to shuffle and slide. However, is inconsistent with his hand placement and doesn't do a great job gaining inside leverage. Will allow defenders to fight their way through contact toward the edge and would like to see him display more of a punch/jolt into contact. His natural girth gives him decent anchor strength, but is more of a catcher, doesn't do a great job extending his arm and jolting defenders on contact.

Does a better job keeping his base down in the run game. Looks more comfortable from a two-point stance getting downhill and coming off the football. Works hard to stick through contact, extends his arms well, generates a slight pop and can turn defenders away from the play. However, allows himself to get upright into contact and doesn't create the leverage needed to consistently overwhelm. More of a sticky player than explosive power/in-line guy. Can be overwhelmed at times on contact when a smaller defender can get under him and will set the edge. Is quick off the snap, can get around on reach blocks and does a nice job sealing on the perimeter. Plays more like a finesse guy than his frame would lead you to believe.

Impression: He's not an overpowering run blocker, but can bend, gain leverage and seal inside. He's smooth and coordinated in pass protection, can keep his base down and warrants a higher grade because of it. Needs to play inside at the next level, but looks like a guy who can start in the league.

Drafttek (Long Ball): 5th-rated OG; 62nd overall

Jeff may end up kicking inside, and he would make an outstanding OG, but I like this kid's feistiness and would see if he could play ROT first (he might even be able to fill in as LOT in a pinch). This 2-year team captain had 47 career starts at both ROT and LOT for the Fighting Illini, as they positioned him at "Weakside OT" (the side opposite the TE) so that let's you know what they thought of his pass protection.

Allen looks the part, as he is a big athlete with good bulk and a filled out frame. In pass protection he is disciplined, coming out of his stance with good bend and leverage, stays balanced and doesn't overextend. Jeff is efficient in his movements, covers his area well and works hard to mirror rushers, keeping his feet moving at all times. His wide base makes him stout at the point of attack, sets and re-sets his anchor and can control rushers when he uses his hands effectively. Now, this is where I need to talk about his "dysfunctional strength" . . . if he would work on his hand placement technique, we would definitely be talking about him at OT. He has a tendency to absorb pass rushers instead of keeping them at a distance.

Allen is not what you would term a "mauler" in run-blocking, but his aggressiveness is apparent in the way he stays with a block. Once again, his hands betray him as the poor placement does not allow him to jolt defenders at the point of attach and redirect their progress. Yes, I know he's not a "body beautiful", but if he would work on his upper body techniques, he has the lower body to provide the push.

Allen's results at the Combine were a 5.28 forty (1.82 for 10 yard split), 4.90 shuttle, 8.01 3-cone, 27-1/2" vertical, 8'06" broad jump and 26 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 62 and a lateral agility factor of 0.38. His 33-1/2" arms promote a wingspan of 80-3/8". So, Mr. Allen may indeed wind up at OG in the NFL . . . but wherever he lands, it won't be for lack of trying!

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 3rd-rated OT; 36th overall

Positives: Natural bender with outstanding recovery quickness, lateral agility and balance to mirror and sustain—is seldom on the ground or beaten in pass protection. Plays with a very solid base. Throws his hips in the hole and wins with quickness at the snap. Controls defenders with his hands. Is athletic running the field and can connect on the second level. Good football intelligence. Quick learner. Flipped sides and has proven he can play in a left- or right-hand stance. Versatility is a big plus—can play either tackle position and has the quickness to handle movement on the inside. Solid character. Very committed, dedicated approach—has not missed a practice or game. Is a tough, durable, hardworking four-year starter.

Negatives: Does not look the part—is knock-kneed, fleshy-bodies and pear-shaped. Lacks ideal height and arm length for the outside. Not a nasty finisher or fiery run blocker. Not strong-handed or violent with his punch. Tends to set tall and catches a lot. Undisciplined eyes—late to see and adjust to some stunts. Conditioning has been a concern, and diet might require some additional monitoring.

Summary: A model of consistency on and off the field, Allen makes the game look easy and is one of the best pure pass protectors in this year’s draft, with unique balance, coordination and agility to warrant late-first-round consideration as a left tackle prospect. Versatility, football smarts and durability could allow him to start immediately and play at a high level for the next 10 years.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 4th-rated OG; 55th overall

Pass Protection: Has the potential to develop into an effective pass blocker at tackle where he played in college. Above average first-step quickness and average arm length for an offensive tackle prospect. Heavy handed and can knock edge rushers off balance with punch but feet are quicker than hands. Lets defenders get into frame and struggles to sustain. Footwork is also inconsistent. Agile and strong enough to mask these weaknesses at guard until or unless overall technique improves. Above average balance and can redirect once locked on. Sets high and gives to much ground at times but flashes the ability to reset and anchor against power.

Run Blocking: Drives legs and serviceable power when plays with leverage. Above average initial surge and flashes the ability to knock defenders back but again struggles to sustain. Gets into trouble when doesn't keep pads down. Leans, plays with a narrow base and slips off too many blocks. Takes too many false steps and has problems preventing penetration when footwork isn't sound. Has lateral mobility to develop into an effective zone blocker with improved footwork. Takes adequate angles to downfield blocks and flashes the ability to cover up linebackers at the second level. Above average range and can get around the corner when asked to pull.

Awareness: Appears to make sound pre-snap reads and keeps head on a swivel. Recognizes and picks up line stunts and blitzes more times than not. Shows better awareness in pass protection than does as a run blocker however. Late locating linebackers when asked to combination block up to the second level. Has some problems adjusting when defensive front shifts at the snap of the ball on zone runs.

Toughness: Flashes a mean streak and doesn't back down in phone booth but doesn't show enough of a mean streak and more of a wall-off blocker than a mauler. Flashes the ability to get under defender's skin but doesn't consistently play though the whistle.

Intangibles: Graduated from high school early and enrolled at Illinois in January of 2008. 2010 Team captain. Named team's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman following the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Earned team's Best Effort Offense award following 2010 spring drills. Uncle Shon Williams played football at Miami. All Big 10 Academic in 2010. Has worked hard to keep weight down. Ejected late in the first half of the 2011 Western Michigan game.

The above scouts aren't as unified in their opinion of Allen as they have been of other prospects the series has covered thus far. Part of me wonders of this is because there is some debate about his best position; three of our scouts have him as a guard, but Nolan Nawrocki lists him as a tackle. In this draft, Allen's range--anywhere from pick 36 (high second) to pick 72 (middle of the third)--represents a fairly broad spread. So, where should we slot him in our Cowboys "little board"?

Given that Dallas is looking at every interior lineman expected to go between picks 15-50, I'm inclined to lump Allen in with that group rather than on an island later in the draft. I feel quite certain that, unless one of their first-round targets falls to # 45, the Cowboys will take a guard in the second round; however, if either Amini Silatolu or Kevin Zeitler are on, I don't think that guard will be Allen. To my mind, he's a more likely candidate if they trade down in the second or, if a Mark Barron or Courtney Upshaw lasts until the second, trade up from the third to snag their guard.

So, I'm going to place Allen with Silatolu and Zeitler, but at the bottom of the list of second round candidates.

Next up: an interior line double-dip: SMU's Josh LeRebus and Memphis' Ronald Leary

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