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2023 NFL Free Agent Profile: Defensive Lineman Zach Allen

The Cincinnati Bengals could find a relatively affordable mid-tier utility player on the open market who could bolster their pass-rush and overall depth along the defensive line.

While the Cincinnati Bengals have had an effective defensive line the past couple of seasons, rotational players have come at a premium. When the team made its surprising 2021 run, getting great seasons out of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard off the edge was key, as was the formidable rotation of D.J. Reader, B.J. Hill and Larry Ogunjobi inside.

In 2022, the loss of Ogunjobi was felt, though the team started to get late contributions from Zachary Carter, Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample. Still, a rotational guy who can get pressure from numerous spots this coming year, while also alleviating snaps from veterans who have been forced into high volumes could bring a lot of value.

We know that the Bengals have gone splashy in recent offseasons for outside free agent help, but they largely stick to the mid-tiers for new additions. There is one such player who fits the rare bill of need, production, relative affordability and versatility at premium defensive positions.

Zach Allen is a former third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals who has begun to find his way in the NFL. He has played different spots in the league, but his bulking up from his college days plays into his pro versatility.

Zach Allen Free Agent Profile

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 281

College: Boston College

Years Pro: Entering fifth season

Age: 25 (Turns 26 in August)

Round Drafted: 2019 Third Round, No. 65 overall


Allen apparently almost gave up on football as a freshman in high school, but stuck with it and carved out an excellent path for himself. He played all four seasons at Boston College, where he became a full-time starter as a Junior, posting 16.5 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss and 15 passes defended as a Golden Eagle.

Teams liked the production, particularly his knack to make varying tackles for loss—be it by a sack or sniffing out a run play—but, he tested pretty poorly. He ran a 5.0 40-yard dash and didn’t wow folks with explosion from a guy who was largely viewed as an edge player.

However, the Arizona Cardinals took him at the top of the third round four years ago with a specific plan in mind. Give the Day 2 project time and use him at varying parts of the defensive line to have an impact.

It worked—particularly in 2022, wherein Allen posted 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits and 35 pressures from different posts on the line. In addition, he had over 70.0 on Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush grades, over 60.0 in PFF run defense grades, and a respectable 72.7 overall score for the year.


Relentlessness is probably the top asset Allen possesses. He never gives up on a play and because he doesn’t have an elite athletic profile, he has to rely on “motor” and hustle to make impact plays—particularly when rushing the passer.

Additionally, his play recognition skills are pretty solid. When you watch some of the big plays he’s made, you’ll see him make the correct read on RPOs, know when he’s stymied and needs to jump to bat down a pass and other positive plays. This high football IQ is definitely something Lou Anarumo covets out of his linemen.

While interior defensive linemen with pass-rush ability are starting to get paid a premium in today’s NFL, Allen could be a productive addition on a somewhat-manageable contract. He’ll get paid well, no doubt, but the feeling is that the pay will be commensurate with the ability and future production.

And, of course, Allen’s versatility along the line is a valuable asset. He has shown to make plays off the edge, even if the athletic traits don’t point to a high achiever there, while also providing pass-rush and pass-defense abilities inside.


Did we mention the athletic traits? Here’s his Relative Athletic Score (RAS) as both a defensive end and defensive tackle:

While Allen could be a good asset to the Bengals’ talented front, just how many snaps would he get right away? If he’s pitched a role with a high volume of snaps, but it’s not one as a starter—a role in which he held with Arizona—would he balk at it?

And, unfortunately, Allen has had a bit of an injury history. As a pro, Allen has missed 21 games in four seasons, with the bulk (12) coming as a rookie. Still, he hasn’t played a full season, neither 16 nor 17 games, in his professional career and that’s a concern.


If Allen were to take a somewhat-lucrative deal with a championship-caliber team for a role that is both high-profile and labeled as a “heavy rotator”, this could be a good get for Cincinnati. To use alternative sport similes, Allen would be a great “utility player” or “sixth man” on Anarumo’s defense.

Cincinnati needs quality snaps that garner pass-rush in scenarios that relieve Hendrickson and Hubbard from the volume they’ve amassed since Ogunjobi’s 2021 Wild Card injury, as well as teaming with Hill inside to have an impact. Allen can provide that and is appearing to hit his professional stride.

Pieces have to fit and Allen would possibly have to be a guy who falls through the first wave of free agency. True 3-technique interior linemen may garner more attention than the Swiss Army knife Allen, but he brings helpful tools to a defense.