Nate Allen’s play tailed off when he left Philadelphia for Oakland, but that has been the case for a lot of free agent signees with their sights set on The Black Hole. A second round draft pick in 2010, Nate Allen paired well with Malcolm Jenkins in Philadelphia for the 2014 season matching the all-pro’s approximate value figure (profootballreference.com’s player measurement tool.)
A torn ACL ended his 2015 season after just five games and had lingering effects in 2016. After two solid seasons in Philadelphia, Allen was a complete bust in Oakland. But as the Dolphins continue their mission to revitalize the careers of “once-were” players, Allen is the next reclamation project for Adam Gase’s staff.
Depending on how the draft falls, Allen could be the Dolphins second starting safety alongside Reshad Jones. He does a number of things well, but has his warts as well.
With a clean bill of health, Allen re-established himself as a starter playing well for a Raiders defense that was reeling in the final month of the regular season.
Allen was inserted as a starter in the third quarter of the game against the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders defense had been gashed for 24 points in the first two quarters prior to Allen’s entry. After, the Bills offense went punt, punt, punt, INT (by Allen), fumble, end game.
He’s a smart player that does his best work when the play is in front of him. He shows value sitting back in zone coverage and anticipating the underneath developing route concept before pulling his trigger and firing into the passing lane.
When he is surprised by a route concept, it can get ugly. The deeper you ask him to play, the more trouble you’re asking for. It’s important to understand a player’s limitations, it’s coaching 101, and playing Allen in man-free isn’t a good idea.
Although not man coverage, here is an example of Allen getting caught peaking against the Chiefs.
That’s not to say he is completely incapable of playing deep. In fact, the Raiders rotated him all over the defense a fair amount. Typically, he would line up on the strong side of the inline formation and take the tight end man-up or drop into a shallow zone. When motion took the formation away from him, he would bail out. The Dolphins like to disguise coverages and Allen is capable of understanding those intricacies.
Here’s an example of Allen playing single high center field.
It isn’t going to be a good idea to ask Allen to take Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce in man coverage. To be fair, I’m not sure that you can say that about any defender. But if you’re hoping this is the answer to the tight end problem the Dolphins are perpetually dealing with in New England, think again.
Here is Travis Kelce putting his foot in the ground and leaving Allen flat footed on a simple seam route.
By the same token, he dealt with Buffalo’s Nick O’Leary just fine. O’Leary spent the second half of the game trying to get free on quick man-beaters and Allen was having none of that.
The veteran leadership and ability to communicate the defense isn’t an art that should be completely lost. Without Jones and calling up a street free agent in Rambo, the Dolphins endured their fair share of coverage mix ups down the stretch (see the Buffalo game.)
Here are two examples of Allen camping back and recognizing 1.) the route combination and 2.) the weak side cutback run play.
But where Nate Allen butters his bread is in the run game. He’s quick to recognize a hand-off and closes down quickly. He understands angles and filling open gaps (I could see the Dolphins sneaking him onto the field on third downs as an extra linebacker.) He’s certainly equipped to fill the third safety position.
Rather than recklessly attacking the line of scrimmage, he’s controlled and capable of staying off blocks of the linemen climbing to the second level. He’s good with his hands and keeps his feet choppy, but underneath him, in order to keep himself clean until the ball carrier arrives.
Role in Miami: If the draft falls right for the Dolphins, he’s the third safety and primary backup for Reshad Jones or whoever the newcomer may be. The issue with starting him on the field with Jones, he has similar strengths in terms of playing his best ball near the line of scrimmage.
No doubt the Dolphins brought him in for three reasons:
1.) When he’s on the field, your run defense is better. He is capable of closing down the edge as well as sticking his nose between the tackles to clog up lanes.
2.) His desire and knowledge of the game is apparent on film. He’s a technical, assignment oriented player that is usually in the right spot.
3.) At worse, he bolsters your depth at the position. The Dolphins gave way too many snaps to Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo out of necessity last year. Allen is insurance that, that won’t happen again.
The Dolphins said they were targeting players that love football. When you watch the all-22 tape on Allen and a Raider defender makes a play, Allen is the first one to congratulate the player. His passion and understanding for the game pops out on tape – I have to imagine it’s in even more abundance when he sits down with Adam Gase.
Rather than focusing on the things a player can’t do, Miami will win by asking the players to execute the tasks they are best at. The Dolphins brass said it wanted to fill out the core of the team through middle tier free agents and the draft opposed to spending big cash.
If the Dolphins continue to draft players that turn into all-pro worthy talent (Landry, Tunsil, Ajayi) then these are the kind of free agent signings that will take them from a team with a few big names, to a complete football team that consistently wins.
And that’s all anybody around here wants.
Coming soon, William Hayes.