Texas Tech linebacker Dakota Allen picked up an eye-opening endorsement this week when Pro Football Focus listed him as its No. 1 LB to watch among NFL Draft prospects.
Allen’s comeback has been well documented, especially during Big 12 Media Days in July when he was one of the favorite stories to tell for reporters from around the conference landscape. That story has a chance to get even better over the next few months. That potential made me start to wonder how Allen might compare at this point in his career to Red Raider legend Zach Thomas.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 20 years since Thomas wore the scarlet and black and punished ball-carriers. But Red Raider fans over the age of 40 will never forget the way he impacted games. Thomas finished his Texas Tech career with 390 tackles, including 131 as a senior when he became just the second Red Raider to earn unanimous All-American honors. He holds the school record with seven fumble recoveries and his legendary moment came when he returned an interception for a touchdown to lift the Red Raiders to a 14-7 victory over 8th-ranked Texas A&M on October 7, 1995.
Thomas and Allen played in very different situations. Thomas was the key cog on a great defense in a program that valued the running game on offense. Allen has been a building block on a defense that’s been scratching and clawing to get better on a team that values the passing game. So Allen doesn’t have the All-American recognition that Thomas had already gathered by the start of his senior season.
But, statistically, there are similarities. Allen racks up tackles, just like Thomas did. He made 87 as a freshman. Then, following his year at East Mississippi Community College and his return to Lubbock, he posted 102 tackles with a pair of interceptions, a fumble caused and fumble recovered in 2017.
Thomas’s senior mark of 131 tackles seems like a possibility for Allen. But the thing that could boost Dakota to Thomas-level legend would be a signature moment like Thomas’s TD to beat the Aggies.
Allen has a chance to jump up into the first round of the draft next spring and thus surpass Thomas as an NFL prospect. Thomas somehow dropped to the fifth round of the 1996 draft (he didn’t have the measurables to dazzle scouts at the combine). But he proved a lot of teams wrong. As a Dolphin, he was named first-team All-Pro five times and made seven Pro Bowls.