New Washington Redskins defensive lineman Jonathan Allen probably did not intend to make a pun when asked about what it felt like to wait and wait and wait before being picked 17th overall in the NFL draft Thursday night.
“It’s tough,” he said, “but when you do get that phone call, it’s definitely a load off your shoulders.”
Ah, yes, Allen’s shoulders. Medical questions about arthritis might have affected the draft stock of the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Alabama senior, who said he tries to model his play after Aaron Donald of the Rams and Geno Atkins of the Bengals.
But Redskins coach Jay Gruden said the team received a “thumb’s up” about Allen from noted orthopedist James Andrews.
“We didn’t have any concerns. … We feel very good about the injuries,” Gruden said.
On a call with reporters shortly after he was chosen, Allen also played down the health issue.
“It hasn’t affected me, especially this last year. I didn’t even wear a brace for the season. Every team I’ve talked to, shoulders were medically cleared. No problem,” Allen said. “Probably the best I’ve felt in the last four years, to be honest.”
Still, he acknowledged: “I feel like it was definitely in some teams’ minds.”
That, along with an early run on offensive players, appeared to work in Washington’s favor, allowing them to try to boost their lackluster defense. Allen can play inside or outside along the line and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting as a junior in 2016.
“This guy can do everything,” Gruden said. “He can stunt. He can play the run. He can rush the passer.”
Allen could instantly upgrade a defensive line that was one of the biggest weaknesses on a Redskins team that went 8-7-1 and failed to make the playoffs last season, a year after winning the NFC East. And Chris Baker departed as a free agent, while Ricky Jean Francois was released.
“I’m looking to come in and make an immediate impact,” said Allen, who is from nearby Leesburg and said he remembers coming to watch quarterback Donovan McNabb practice with the Redskins.
“You read about in books,” he said of joining his favorite childhood team. “It doesn’t even seem real.”
Washington’s defense ranked 28th in the league and was particularly poor on third downs and against the run. The team fired defensive coordinator Joe Barry right after the season and made some additions in free agency on that side of the ball, signing linemen Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain and safety D.J. Swearinger.
Now the Redskins have brought in Allen as part of the makeover.
“We really wanted to upgrade our defensive line, obviously,” Gruden said. “When you talk about upgrading your defense, you have to take a guy high.”
Eight of the top 12 picks in the first round Thursday night were on offense, sending some of the top defensive talent tumbling. Allen was part of a run of six consecutive defenders selected.
He arrived with the first of 10 picks held by Washington, which fired general manager Scot McCloughan early last month, halfway through his four-year deal. No replacement GM has been announced by the team, leaving president Bruce Allen and director of college scouting Scott Campbell among those with key input during the draft.
The Redskins have one pick each in the second and third rounds.
Note: Gruden said there was “not one call” with any other team to discuss a possible trade of QB Kirk Cousins.