As the Washington Football Team weathered the storm of their 2-6 start this season, there were a few foundational pillars that stood tall throughout and helped guide them to their improbable turnaround. On that short-list would be defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who has been an anchor for their defense, which over the last month-plus has been among the best in the league.
Allen, 26, signed a contract extension in the offseason and has only improved from there, showing an ideal trajectory for the investment Washington made in him. He has appeared in all 12 of their games, while the defense has lost edge rusher Chase Young for the season and others such as Montez Sweat for extended periods of time.
While plenty has changed around him, Allen has put in what is shaping up to be a career year. He's on pace for career-highs in sacks with 6.5 (he had 8.0 in 2018) and tackles for loss with eight (he had 11 in 2018).
Allen has already set career-highs in quarterback hits (23), knockdowns (12) and pressures (25), the hits ranking first among defensive tackles this season and the pressures placing second only to Rams star Aaron Donald. Allen's sack total is tied for fourth at his position and he has the eighth-lowest missed tackle percentage (2.6) among all players with at least 35 tackles this season.
Allen has been in the middle of the third-best rush defense in the NFL this year (91.3 ypg). Two games ago, in Week 12 against the Seahawks, Washington gave up only 34 rushing yards and Seattle's 10 first downs were the fewest allowed by the franchise since 2017.
Washington's defense has allowed 310 yards or fewer in six straight weeks, a feat they hadn't accomplished since 2009. Allen has been a key component in each of those games.
Allen's reliability really goes back four years at this point. He only played in five games his rookie year in 2017, but since has only missed one. Only punter Tress Way has appeared in more games for Washington in that span.
In the bigger picture, Allen's success this season is notable because it shows a change in draft philosophy by the franchise is working. When Allen was taken 17th overall by Washington in 2017, he was the first interior defensive lineman selected by them in the first round since 1991 (Bobby Wilson). Allen was just the second defensive tackle Washington selected in the first four rounds during that span.
Before Allen, the only interior D-lineman taken by Washington in the first four rounds from 1991 to 2017 was Jarvis Jenkins, a second-round pick in 2011. That is a remarkable degree of neglecting a position that is by all accounts pretty important. In fact, Dallas is the only other franchise that didn't take at least one defensive tackle in the first round in those 26 years.
Coaches always say they want to win the line of scrimmage. That is hard to do when you don't apply draft resources to that part of the field.
Washington instead went the free-agent route time and time again. Some of their failed signings include Albert Haynesworth and Dana Stubblefield.
Allen was the first of four first-round picks Washington would spend in a four-year span on defensive linemen. After Allen in 2017, they grabbed another interior rusher with Daron Payne in 2018. The next years brought in Sweat and Young.
That strategy hasn't turned them into Super Bowl contenders, at least not yet. But Allen's continued success is an example of how it can work and what could happen as the other first-round picks continue developing.
Allen has been a major success story for that cause and he has helped Washington salvage their season along the way. Now they will follow his lead into the home stretch of their season, with the first-place Dallas Cowboys up next. What happens in that game will go a long way in deciding the NFC East division. In Allen, they know they have someone they can count on.