Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will "dare to compare" prospects to NFL players throughout the college football season. This week, he provides a scouting report and comp for Alabama DL Jonathan Allen, who's one of the top talents in the game.
When it comes to cranking out defensive linemen with power and toughness, no college program is doing it better than Alabama. Typically, an Alabama defensive lineman is going to play with great hand usage, proper technique and an ability to beat the man across from him when single-blocked.
The Crimson Tide's Jonathan Allen possesses most of those traits and characteristics, but with some slight variations. Allen had the opportunity to apply for early draft eligibility last year along with line-mates A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, but chose to stay in school. Let's take a look at what NFL evaluators might be seeing when they watch Allen's tape.
Allen has been schooled by the Alabama coaching staff and is technically proficient in all phases of the game. Allen is very quick off the snap and usually gets his hands on blockers before they get their hands on him. There's no reason to believe that he can't play in more of a one-gap, penetrating defensive scheme as opposed to the two-gap scheme that Alabama employs.
Alabama often utilizes Allen outside as a power end, and then bumps him inside as an interior rusher on passing downs. Allen has proven that he can get after the quarterback from outside or inside. He uses a varied approach as a pass rusher and won't be easy to read from a tendency standpoint. As a run defender, Allen is a superior hand-grappler who can control the wrists and forearms of his opponents with accurate hand placement over wild chops and slaps. He's usually very quick to diagnose where the play is headed and has the plus athleticism to chase the ball carrier down.
Allen (6-foot-3, 291 pounds, per school measurements) lacks the height that NFL teams look for out of a defensive end and the mass they typically want from a full-time defensive tackle. Allen came to Alabama as a 265-pound outside linebacker and has steadily added bulk during his time with the Tide. Can he continue to add "good weight" that allows him to maintain his quickness? While he can hold his own inside, he doesn't win the power battles that former teammates Robinson and Reed used to at 'Bama.
NFL teams will wonder about how productive he'll be when he's not surrounded with the type of talent Alabama has featured, as that talent frequently allows Allen one-on-one looks. The biggest concerns surrounding Allen will likely center around how a team will utilize him and the question of whether he can hold the point as a full-time defensive tackle.
NFL comp: Fletcher Cox
I've heard Allen compared to Tennessee Titan defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, and that's a good comp based on the ability of both players to see past the blocker in front of them and win their matchup quickly. Both Casey and Allen can be very effective as disruptive pass rushers and both have to be accounted for by offensive coordinators.
However, I see Allen's best NFL comparison as Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Like Cox, I think Allen can fit into a 3-4 or 4-3 defense thanks to his combination of hand talent and pass-rushing acumen. Ultimately, I see Allen as a penetrating one-gap defender like Cox, and I see him as one who'll be able to consistently generate pressure against the quarterback. Cox (6-4, 310) is a little taller and might be more athletic, but I think he's the most accurate comp for Allen based on body type and style of play.
Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.