The wait took a little longer than most would have expected this past fall, given his first-round draft projection, but Boston College football defensive end Zach Allen’s journey to the NFL is finally over. On Friday night, the Arizona Cardinals selected the 6-foot-4, 281-pound New Canaan, Conn. native with the 65th overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. About an hour later, teammate and safety Will Harris came off the board as a Detroit Lion, having been selected with the 81st overall pick.
Back in November, Allen was slotted as high as a top-15 pick, and entering draft season was still regarded as a first-round selection. Following a junior campaign in which he was one of two defensive linemen in the country to log 100 or more tackles, Allen decided to return to BC for his senior season. To say that he made the right choice would be an understatement.
While it might not show on paper, Allen turned in his best year of his career in 2018, recording 61 tackles—including 15 behind the line of scrimmage—and a personal-best 6.5 sacks, all while being double-teamed by some of the best offensive lines in the country. What separates the All-ACC Second Teamer from similar sized players at his position is his versatility.
In Week Four, Allen leapt over David Blough after the Purdue quarterback was hit from the behind, in order to make an acrobatic interception. Then, seven days later, he logged a potential game-saving sack by wrapping up Temple gunslinger Anthony Russo with one arm for a loss of seven yard, forcing an Owls punt—one that ultimately defused their second-half comeback. A couple weeks after that, he got a hand on a Louisville extra point—the first of two blocked kicks for Allen on the season. Put simply, he’s as complete as defensive linemen come.
When all was said and done, Allen finished his Eagles career with 199 tackles—40.5 of which were for loss—18.5 sacks, 14 passes defended, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and four recoveries, in addition to the two aforementioned blocked kicks. The problem was, in the weeks following the 2018 season, Allen’s draft stock plateaued.
He took a huge hit before and during the Senior Bowl, sliding out of the first round of most mock drafts. On the opening series of the annual all-star game, Allen tried to close the inside gap on a goal line stand, but instead was stood up in his own end zone by Alabama State’s Tytus Howard, creating an open path for Temple running back Ryquell Armstead to score. Aside from a blocked extra point, there wasn’t much to highlight from Allen’s outing. He didn’t tally a single tackle on the day and, at one point, was called for roughing the passer. The penalty came just two days after Allen got in a scuffle with Kansas State offensive tackle Dalton Risner. Clearly, the defensive end was far from himself.
At the NFL Combine, Allen ran a 5-flat 40-yard dash, but showcased his quickness with a 1.65 10-yard split and a 7.34 three-cone drill. Because his numbers didn’t stack up to the Rashan Garys and Montez Sweats of this year’s Draft class, Allen was overshadowed in Indianapolis, but his agility and tenacity during the drill portion of the Combine spoke to his skillset.
Because of everything Allen can do on the field, his tape is much more representative of his talent than his measurables—and the Cardinals took note. Arizona could use all of the help it can get on the defensive side of the ball, considering that last season it was the worst team against the run in the NFL, allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Allen could very well start from day one opposite Chandler Jones.
“Zach is a big man and is a great athlete,” BC head coach Steve Addazio told BCEagles.com. “He has tremendous versatility—whether it is on the edge [or] inside—and his ability to go from speed to power is incredible … Zach is going to play a long time in the NFL with the Cardinals.”
Unlike Allen, Harris’ draft stock didn’t drop in the months leading up to April—rather, he quickly became one of the more notable defensive backs in this year’s draft class. BC fans, however, have known the saftey’s name for years.
Harris started the final three games of his freshman season at strong safety and never looked back, locking down the position for his final three years on the Heights. The Suwanee, Ga. native developed the reputation as a hard-hitting defensive back in no time. As an upperclassman, Harris upped the ante, finishing both his junior and senior seasons with the fourth-most tackles on BC’s roster. In 2018, he delivered a number of punishing hits, most notably a devastating a blow on Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis, en route to earning All-ACC Third Team honors and a share of the William J. Flynn award—given to BC’s most valuable player—with tight end Tommy Sweeney.
“Will is a unique, physical player who had tremendous measurables at the NFL Combine,” Addazio said, per BCEagles.com. “He has a passion for football and will be a guy who can do a lot of different things on Sundays for the Lions.”
Those measurables are the main reason why Harris started climbing prospect rankings everywhere. After a fine Senior Bowl—one in which he recorded two tackles and a pass deflection—the hard-nosed defensive back stole the spotlight from his fellow BC prospects at the NFL Combine. Harris ran a blistering 4.41 40-yard dash, the fourth best among 2019 Combine participating safeties. To put that in perspective, that split is at least a tenth of a second faster than each of the last four Eagles defensive backs to be selected in the NFL Draft. Factor in his 20 bench press reps—tied for third among safeties—and top-five finishes in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, and Harris had himself quite the pre-draft performance.
Coming into Thursday, ESPN NFL Draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. rated Harris 96th and 64th, respectively, in their final top-300 prospect rankings. On Friday, he fell in between where the two pundits expected, reuniting with former BC defensive line coach and current Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni in Detroit. Harris, the fifth Eagles defensive back to be drafted in the past four years, should be able to make an immediate impact in the Lions’ secondary—or perhaps at the rover position—given that the team allowed opposing quarterbacks to post the fifth-highest yards per pass attempt (7.9) and third-highest passer rating (102.7) this past season.
Allen and Harris experienced very different pre-draft processes, but now they’re both in the same boat, as third-round picks primed to make a difference in year one.
Featured Images by Kaitlin Meeks and Bradley Smart / Heights Senior Staff and Heights Editor