Is Dwayne Allen Already One of NFL's Top Tight Ends?
Dwayne Allen was not supposed to play like he did in 2012.
They needed offensive weapons, so a wide receiver or running back was not out of the question. Backs like Isaiah Pead, LaMichael James and Bernard Pierce were still on the board, as were receivers Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery and Ryan Broyles. There were defensive options, especially at secondary, where the Colts were extremely thin (Janoris Jenkins and Casey Hayward would go later in the round).
Then there were the tight ends. The Colts had let veteran tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme go in the offseason and desperately needed an infusion of talent to give Luck something to work with.
The top three tight ends in the draft included Stanford's Coby Fleener, Clemson's Dwayne Allen and Georgia's Orson Charles, all of whom had their respective supporters in the scouting community. Walter Football, for example, ranked Fleener at the top, while Matt Waldman of The New York Times put Allen first. Pete Fiutak of Scout.com, meanwhile, liked Charles more than the other two.
The most obvious choice for Indianapolis was Coby Fleener, who was Luck's teammate at Stanford. Fleener was expected to be the most dynamic receiving weapon of the three, and he seemed to fit what the Colts wanted to do under then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, which was to stretch the field and make big plays in the passing game.
So, nobody was surprised when the Colts used their second-round pick on Fleener, reuniting the QB-TE combination that was so prolific at Stanford in 2011.
However, when the Colts' third-round pick was announced, a stunned silence fell across Colt Nation, followed by confusion. The Colts had holes across the board heading into 2012; picking two tight ends with such high picks was an incredible waste. Allen likely wasn't going to get much playing time with Fleener ahead of him, so the pick was for long-term building rather than immediate impact.
Of course, after his rookie season, it's safe to say that the hand wringing was unnecessary at best, and flat-out wrong in most cases.
Allen played immediately, logging 53 snaps in the Colts' first regular-season game, according to Football Outsider's snap counter, including 36 offensive snaps.
With Fleener struggling with injuries and gaining separation on routes, Allen would become the Colts' go-to tight end, both from a blocking and receiving stand point, as well as receiving a few carries in short-yardage situations. Allen's 905 snaps were the sixth most on the team, and more than double the total snaps of Coby Fleener (450).
It's become a fairly common opinion that Dwayne Allen will be a Pro-Bowl-caliber player, but with his all-around skills, is it possible that he already is one of the league's top tight ends? To answer that, we go to both the numbers* and the tape.
*All stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted
By the Numbers
Looking at the raw statistics, Dwayne Allen's rookie season was a phenomenal one. While 45 catches for 521 yards doesn't sound impressive by today's sky-high receiving stats, the totals are historically impressive for a rookie tight end.
Allen's 45 catches in the regular season are the 11th most in NFL history for a rookie tight end, and stacks up against the top rookie tight end seasons since 2000.
In comparison to tight ends last season, Allen's 45 receptions was only 22nd in the league, but he was only 26th in targets, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 21st-ranked yardage total makes sense in that light as well.
How about nontraditional stats?
We'll start at Pro Football Focus, one of the NFL's most intricate analysis websites (subscription required).
Allen was 11th among tight ends in drop rate, dropping just three passes on 48 "catchable" balls, and 11th in pass-blocking efficiency, with four pressures allowed in 111 plays. He finished second among tight ends in overall grade, finishing with positive grades in each category (one of three tight ends to do so).
Football Outsider's metrics liked Allen as well, ranking him ninth in DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and 10th in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).
Allen didn't have quite enough targets to qualify for Brian Burke's tight end rankings at AdvancedNFLStats.com, but his Expected Points Added per play would have been 11th among tight ends, and his success rate ninth.
I'd expect those numbers for Allen to increase in 2012 under Pep Hamilton's tight end-heavy offense. The volume may not increase by much, as Coby Fleener should see an increased role. But the efficiency and touchdown total should escalate.
By the Tape
The numbers are all fine and dandy, but they don't tell the full story. Just like anything in NFL analysis, both the numbers and the tape are critical parts to any one player's (or team's) performance.
What made Allen so impressive as a rookie is partially reflected in the statistics, but much of his impact has to be seen to be understood.
Allen's blocking is one great example.
One of the biggest reasons Allen was such a tremendous blocker last season was his ability to move at the line of scrimmage quickly and with a purpose. This allowed the Colts to run well even when running to the weak side of a formation; Allen would get there so much quicker than defenders anticipated and be an extra blocker on the weak side.
Take this play against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7, for example. Allen is lined up on the right side (blue), and you can see the strong safety creeping up over him (red). With the formation strong to the left, you can see the MIKE linebacker (yellow) lined up just left of the center.
Once the ball is snapped, however, Allen is going to pull to the right side and then impressively block two players. First, he chips the defensive end, who gets inside pulling guard Mike McGlynn, and then bounces out to clear out the linebacker.
The result is two defenders out of position and a six-yard gain for Vick Ballard.
Another example of picture-perfect blocking technique is this play against New England.
Allen latches on to the cornerback and drives him back into the linebacker, preventing both from reaching Delone Carter, who waltzes into the end zone untouched.
While Allen's athleticism was questioned before the draft, he showed enough speed and reliability to become an above-average target for Andrew Luck.
The best example of Allen's underrated speed in the open field is this 40-yard screen pass against the Detroit Lions, in which he takes the short throw from Luck and sprints down the sideline, netting a huge gain on the simple play.
The athleticism and ability to make in-air adjustments are best seen on this 11-yard pass against the Green Bay Packers. Luck rifles the pass over the linebacker before the safety arrives, and Allen makes the leap while sprinting right to left to make the grab for a first down.
It's not an overly-athletic play, but for a guy his size, it's impressive.
There are tight ends who are better receivers than Allen and tight ends who may be better blockers (although that list is very small), but nobody save Rob Gronkowski (who is a question mark to see the field at this point) has the whole package that Allen possesses.
That's why, especially if he improves just a small amount in 2013, he's already one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
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