Tackles are a funny thing.
OK, maybe not tackles themselves – anyone who has been tackled isn't laughing – but tackle statistics, something that ultimately relies on subjective decisions. Zach Allen understands this, and so the 100 tackles he piled up as a junior at Boston College (47 solos, 53 assists) in 13 games are less about the number and more about what they represent.
And how Allen, the defensive end the Cardinals took with the first pick in the third round of the draft, discusses those 100 tackles also says something about the person who made them.
"I think it shows, and I like to think, I play with a high motor and that I'm always running to the ball," Allen said. "But another part of it was that I played on a great defense and that year I had (2018 Titans second-round pick) Harold (Landry) on the other side and he definitely took a lot of the pressure off. Teams would have to run at me because you don't want to run at Harold.
"This (past) year, I know I didn't have 100, but it's not like I was playing less hard."
Statistics weren't the reason the Cardinals took Allen (who had "only" 61 tackles as a senior but 15 tackles for loss and a career-best 6½ sacks). They needed defensive line help and Allen was graded highly, a player the Cards felt fortunate to get in the third round.
General Manager Steve Keim called Allen "relentless" after drafting him, noting that he could not remember scouting a defensive lineman that had 100 tackles in a season.
"He is going to will himself into being a very good football player," Keim said.
Veteran defensive lineman Corey Peters said he has been impressed with Allen's intelligence and ability to pick up the playbook, not to mention Allen's physical ability. Training camp – when the pads come on – will provide a better perspective on the rookie, Peters added, "but I fully expect him to be a big part of our rotation."
Allen isn't making too many predictions yet. Physical tools and understanding the playbook are like tackles – they are indicative of a player, but don't themselves guarantee success.
Allen is nothing if not self-aware. He knew Landry's presence helped him in college. He also knew that he was better off staying at Boston College for a final season, rather than coming out to the NFL draft off the momentum of that 100-tackle season.
He wasn't mature enough, Allen believed at the time. Even now, there are parts of being an NFL player he acknowledged he struggles with. The fact he sees such things clearly bodes well for a player who is learning, but also expected to make an immediate impact.
The last time the Cardinals owned the first pick of the third round, they also drafted a defensive lineman. Darnell Dockett started from his first game and went on to be an anchor of the line for a decade.
"If I could have the career Darnell Dockett did, that'd be awesome," Allen said. "He's a badass. I know I have a long way to go, but knowing a guy like that did it in this building, it gives you confidence you can do the same thing. I really think it's the perfect situation for me to succeed in."
Images from the last organized team activity of 2019