Following a 2-14 season in 2011, the Indianapolis Colts were in need of offensive weapons. Peyton Manning had been the lifeblood of the franchise for a decade and it was clear the talent around him had degraded over time. GM Ryan Grigson addressed the problem head-on, using six of the Colts’ first seven draft picks on offensive skill positions. Those six would combine to set rookie records for passing yards (4,374) and total yards from scrimmage (3,108), and propel the Colts to the playoffs after an 11-5 season.
Immediately after that 2012 draft, the talk in Indy was about a certain quarterback-tight end combination. At the time, third-round selection Dwayne Allen was an afterthought. A superfluous pick considering the Colts supposed tight end of the future, Coby Fleener, had just been selected a round earlier. That narrative ran all the way through the start of the season, but by Week 3 the tides had changed. Allen started receiving the bulk of the snaps for the first time that week and didn’t look back. For the year he played 493 more snaps, had 240 more receiving yards, and had an overall grade 22.5 points better than Fleener. Allen was PFF’s second-highest graded tight end in the NFL last season, and for that he is the Colts’ Secret Superstar.
A Complete Tight End
Coming out of Clemson he had a reputation as a complete tight end. So much so that Allen won the John Mackey award as the NCAA’s best tight end, despite having only the seventh-most receiving yards (590) and second-most touchdowns (eight). He was then lauded as a possible first-round pick when he declared for the draft, but his stock tumbled quickly from there.
At the combine his numbers were less than stellar. Questions arose after he measured at only 6-foot-3 after he was listed by Clemson at 6-foot-4. Allen then proceeded to run a sluggish 4.89 40-yard dash and showed average athleticism in the subsequent drills. It became apparent to scouts that he neither had elite size nor speed, and he dropped swiftly all the way to the top of the third round.
Translating to the Next Level
What teams underestimated about Allen’s game was his blocking prowess. One of the harder abilities to scout in tight ends, blocking is about size, coaching, and effort. What scouts didn’t see in Allen was prototypical size and they likely questioned if his blocking skills would translate to the next level. The good news for the Colts is they did.
For the season, Allen had a run blocking grade of +10.1, third-best among tight ends and best among full-time tight ends. We graded him as having 56 positive blocks and 31 negative blocks. However, Allen wasn’t just a successful run blocker, he also graded out very positively in screen blocking and pass blocking. One of his best assets as a blocker is the ability to line up anywhere on the field, and indeed he lined up at 21 unique positions over the course of the season. He did a great job of using his leverage to his advantage and was the type of tight end you’d feel comfortable having singled on a down lineman.
Stepping Up as a Receiver
As a rookie Allen was more than competent as a receiver. He caught 45 balls for 521 yards, but maybe more importantly had a drop rate of just 6.25, 11th among tight ends. The biggest knocks on his receiving game both stem from questions about his athleticism. In 2012, Allen was below average after the catches, breaking only three tackles all year. He also rarely got open down the field, with only four targets farther than 20 yards down the field, and only one catch on those passes. He posted an ADoT 7.8 yards and a target percentage of 17.4 which ranked 26th and 27th respectively out of 37 qualifying tight ends. These numbers suggest that Allen ran mostly safety routes and wasn’t normally a featured option.
A tight end’s receiving production ultimately comes down to utilization within an offense. This is the reason why a lumbering bull like Jason Witten can put up almost twice as many receiving yards as a physical freak like Vernon Davis, or why Dallas Clark can fall from relevance among top tier tight ends after losing Peyton Manning.
For this reason I believe Allen could take a big step up in the receiving game in the coming seasons. He will continue to develop a better relationship with Andrew Luck and see a better target percentage. One of the things that will help him out more than anything is the development of his rookie quarterback. Luck had a sensational rookie season, but was plagued by inconsistent accuracy. This was especially apparent in the 0-10 yard range where Allen thrives. On those passes Luck completed a dismal 64% of his throws while the league average was 72%. Considering that 75% of Allen’s targets occurred within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage he could see a nice bump in production just from Luck’s accuracy development.
The Next Big Thing?
Allen has obvious limitations to his upside. His size means he’ll probably never be a road-grading third tackle (although he’s close), while his athleticism means he won’t put up receiver like numbers any time soon. A good comparison for his upside would be a player like Witten. He’ll continue to be an elite blocker and has all the tools to become an exceptional receiver. The best thing for Allen in his development is that he’ll most likely build a relationship with a quality quarterback over his entire career. With great hands and solid route running skills, Allen should provide a safety net for Luck for the foreseeable future.