Nate Allen: Under Pressure

Pushing down on me, Pushing down on you…

What a difference a few days make.

Second round pick Nate Allen was supposed to compete for the starting free safety spot, not have it thrown on him before OTAs even ended. But with the season-ending injury to free agent pick up Marlin Jackson, that’s exactly where Allen stands. Add in the MCL sprain to strong safety Quintin Mikell, and Nate Allen suddenly looks to have a whole lot of weight on his shoulders come training camp.

Rookie Defensive Backs NFL Draft Rounds 1 and 2 2007 to 2009As you can see from the table at right, less than half of the defensive backs taken in the first or second round of the NFL draft start even the majority of their team’s games. There’s no reason Allen, who figures to be somewhere in the middle of that pack talent-wise, couldn’t be one of those guys who starts the whole year. But it’s certainly no given.

**Interesting side note, of the 15 DBs who did start at least 9 games, it’s split down the middle (8 firsts, 7 seconds) as to which round they were taken in.

And yet perhaps the biggest transition for Allen won’t be on the field, it will be avoiding questions about how he measures up against two former Eagles in a war of media memes.

The first pattern emerging from OTAs is that Allen has to live up to being “The Donovan McNabb Pick.” Over the last week you can see this label emerge here, here, and here. I know its fun to see what teams “win” trades by looking at who they actually get from draft picks. (Anthony Spencer for Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley, and CJ Gaddis was especially good for that.)

But let’s just end this thing before it goes any further. It’s silly to compare Allen’s performance this year at safety to McNabb’s in Washington, especially when he already has enough responsibility and pressure. When the Redskins come to Philly in October, McNabb will probably expose the Eagles’ secondary, and the easy-way-out-seeking headline writers will champion the failure of the McNabb trade. Chill out.

The second meme of the week, resulting from the Marlin Jackson injury, is that there is some “Brian Dawkins Jinx” on the free safety spot. As Reuben Frank writes,

Quintin Demps got the first crack at it. He didn’t even make it to opening day. Then it was rookie Macho Harris’s turn. He made it through six starts. Sean Jones was up next. That lasted until late in the regular season, when Harris took over for the last few weeks. This summer, the job went to Marlin Jackson. Who limped off the practice field with a ruptured Achilles tendon on Tuesday. So when rookie Nate Allen took over as the Eagles’ starting free safety, he became the fifth different guy in 10 months to get a shot since Brian Dawkins left for Denver.

Okay, first of all, huge stretch to start calling this any kind of real curse. None of these guys (One second-year player, one rookie, two middling veteran pick-ups) could realisitically have been expected to do a great job. And if Allen struggles this year, it won’t be because of some strange voodoo Dawk left in the stadium before he flew to Denver — it will be for the simple fact that starting in the NFL as a rookie is no easy task.

Second, who breaks out the “Curse” watch just a little more than a year after a player’s exit? Were they counting missed titles in Boston in 1921? Were Philly fans in 1988? These reporters seem to be just grasping at straws these days.

And it’s trickled down to the players:

“Everybody saying the whole Dawk-jinx thing, everyone looking at him being a rookie, being the Donovan McNabb pick, all that stuff, he’s got to deal with,” Mikell said. “But if he goes out there and does what he does, don’t ask too much of himself, don’t put too much pressure on himself, just go out there and play ball, he’ll be fine.”

Yeah, that’ll be a real piece of cake. Of course, Andy Reid says Allen’s “got a nice football mind,” whatever that means. Maybe he can beat all this baggage. He’s certainly not going to get off easy if he can’t.