From the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher in Ron Dayne to James White, Melvin Gordon, and Jonathan Taylor, the University of Wisconsin has churned out quite the list of backfield talents over the years. A program most well-known for its flourishing pipeline of trench prospects, a ball-carrier no more than a few months out of high school has been one of the country’s brightest stars this fall.
At 17 years old, Braelon Allen is an exception to the rule. To think the Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin native was dominating the prep scene just a calendar year ago is laughable considering the success he’s enjoyed as the bell-cow back for a Power 5 program. A recruit initially set to enter Wisconsin’s program as a 2022 graduate, Allen reclassified last fall, skipped his senior season at Fond Du Lac High School, and has quickly become an anchor for the 8-3 Badgers.
An athletic specimen compared to that of Derrick Henry at the same age, Allen initially made his name at the linebacker spot at the prep level as a downhill, violent tackler with the ability to range sideline to sideline. While many were unsure of the position he would ultimately slide into at the college level, it’s safe to say Badgers head coach Paul Chryst has played his cards right when he moved Allen to the opposite side of the ball this summer. Fourth in rushing yards among all Big Ten ball-carriers, Allen looks to possess all the traits necessary to represent the “next big thing” out of the Badgers’ backfield in a few years’ time.
If you’ve never seen Allen play, his performance against Nebraska this past weekend encompassed everything he does well as a bell-cow back. In a 228-yard, three-touchdown performance to lead the Badgers to their seventh straight win, his one-cut ability and devastatingly low pad level that he carries through the second level has eerily shadowed that of Taylor during his time in Madison. With the ball in his hands, Allen, like Taylor, is “one cut away” from taking it the distance.
Behind one of the country’s premier offensive lines, a yearly constant for Wisconsin, Allen has recorded seven 100-plus-yard performances in nine appearances and has failed to record a rushing touchdown in just two games so far this fall. What’s most impressive to his game, besides the fact that the kid is 17 years old, is his production under a “limited” workload in comparison to some of the country’s most run-strict offenses. While his carries have slowly increased due to his consistent pop, and rightly so, Allen is a YPC monster, averaging nearly eight yards a touch and has averaged 10 or more yards a carry for an entire game on multiple occasions this fall.
Did I mention he’s 17?
While the blocking on this play was just as good as Allen’s journey for six, his ability to consistently shed tacklers and embarrass closing defenders at the point of contact has been an every-week occurrence for Allen. While you could play devil’s advocate and say the play should have concluded if corner Cam Taylor-Britt (5) remembers he has arms, tell that to the army of other defenders who have bounced off Allen like a mock trampoline throughout Wisconsin’s campaign.
"Having that combination of size and strength and then the little bit of speed...I think [it] sneaks up on some people, Allen said. “Just the blend of all that has been helping me a lot. It's been paying off, for sure.”
A true freshman who’s just now beginning to get his feet wet in college football, the ceiling on his potential is unlimited. A talent who’s proven he can compete and produce in bunches against the best the country has to offer, the Badgers—in due time—may once again serve as the home for one of the country’s most sought-after running backs.