Josh Allen can get to the quarterback. The outside linebacker proved that as a senior at Kentucky, making him a coveted prospect who might not fall past the No. 3 pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft.
The Jets own the third pick and have a glaring need for an edge rusher. Allen had 17 sacks in his senior year and 31 1⁄2 sacks in 42 career college games. He also can play in coverage, making him the kind of versatile player who would fill a need and fit well in new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ system.
“He provides that edge presence that they’re looking for, a guy that can go after the passer,” said Brad White, Kentucky’s outside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. “I think he provides them a guy that will be strong in the run game, a guy that will be able to hunt, and he also provides them a chess piece.
“Gregg Williams is a guy that likes to attack from a lot of different angles. He provides you the ability to do multiple things and I know Coach Williams likes to do that. I think he becomes a really valuable chess piece in that regard.”
Allen, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, Alabama lineman Quinnen Williams and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver could be in play for the Jets if they don’t trade the pick.
Getting an edge rusher is a must for the Jets. In the last three years, no Jets defender has recorded more than seven sacks in a season. Henry Anderson and Jordan Jenkins each had seven last season.
White worked only one season with Allen, but he was thoroughly impressed with the New Jersey product’s work ethic, practice habits and “undying commitment to being great.”
He said becoming a father in January made Allen more focused and driven to succeed. White expects that to transfer to the NFL, and he would know.
White coached Robert Mathis as a member of the Indianapolis Colts’ staff for six years, including 2013, when Mathis led the NFL with 19 1⁄2 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. White believes the 6-5, 260-pound Allen, who forced five fumbles as a senior and 11 overall, has all the tools to be an impact player in the NFL.
“He’s got the characteristics of the guys that last and the guys that stick,” White said. “He’s got some of the athletic traits of those guys that are really special .
He’s really rugged in how he’s built and he’s a tough kid. He’ll play through pain. He’s going to have everything that an NFL coach is going to want from a mentality and toughness and athletic skill set standpoint. You just hope that he falls into a system that fits him.”
The Jets will utilize a 3-4 scheme, in which White said Allen best fits. He’ll be able to “go straight ahead and get after the passer” on the next level.
“His ability to get off the ball and attack the edge of a tackle is as good as there is in this draft,” White said. "I think he’s vastly improved against the run, but his strength and his moneymaker is he’s going to be able to get after the quarterback. But it’s not just getting the sack. He’s got a great awareness of the football and the ability to get it off the quarterback.”
Allen finished second in the country in sacks, and his 21 1/2 tackles for a loss ranked sixth. He was named National Defensive Player of the Year.
His 94.3 pass-rush grade was first among edge defenders, according to Pro Football Focus, and his 29.1 pass-rush win percentage was second.
White said a reason Allen’s sack total jumped by 10 as a senior was because the coaches “broadened his awareness of the pass rush.” They stressed the importance of studying the tendencies of tackles and quarterbacks and working on counter moves.
But White also credited Allen’s practice habits for his transformation. White sees some of former Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston in Allen, but he didn’t want to compare him to Khalil Mack just yet.
“Khalil’s a different beast when it comes to his speed to power,” White said. “He’s sort of the gold standard right now. But I think Josh can get there. I think he’s got the traits and the mental makeup to be a really good player in this league and to last a while. Whoever drafts him is going to be really happy with what they get.”