The distance between Stone Bridge High School and Redskins Park is only four miles, but for Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen the journey to bridge that gap seemed endless.
The Washington Redskins watched dumbfounded Thursday night as Allen dropped down the draft board -- first out of the top five and then the top 10 and finally inching closer to them at pick No. 17. A run on quarterbacks and wide receivers and a sketchy medical evaluation of his surgically repaired shoulders pushed Allen much further down than anyone expected.
The Redskins happily scooped the local product from Ashburn, Va., when their turn came to pick. Hundreds of people from Stone Bridge, including Allen's coach, are expected to welcome him home at FedEx Field on Saturday afternoon during a team draft party.
"Really, never in a million years did we think (Allen) would be there at 17, but we're happy as heck he was," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "There was not a lot of debate in there. We put the card in and took a heck of a football player and a great person."
Allen, who is 6-foot-3 and 286 pounds, returned to Alabama for his senior season despite 12 sacks as a junior. He wasn't happy that scouts saw him as a second- or third-round pick, and Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he thought Allen could become a better run defender.
That happened after a senior year in which Allen had 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He was unblockable at times, even against SEC opponents.
The Redskins believe he can play 3-technique, 5-technique and even nose tackle -- versatility that gives them plenty of options. He improved his run-stopping ability at Alabama, but he is a big body who can get to the quarterback, too. Those players aren't easy to find, and Washington certainly doesn't have one on the roster right now.
Allen insists his shoulders are fine. He has had surgery on both and doctors have told him arthritis will be an issue later in life. But on the football field, for now, Allen says he isn't hampered at all. The surgeries went well. Dr. James Andrews even gave his blessing. In the end, that's what allowed Allen to go home.
"It's only something you read about in books," Allen said. "It doesn't even seem real. For me to be going back home to Washington, it's honestly just the biggest blessing I could have ever received."