Just a few weeks ago, Phillip Rivers had to feel pretty optimistic about the weapons he'd be going into battle with for the 2013 NFL season. Not only did he have known commodities like Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown to work with, but he also had the improving Danario Alexander in his top three receivers as well. Rookie Keenan Allen, although talented, wasn't really expected to be a major contributor in his first season.
As things are prone to do in this league, however, the picture has changed drastically for the Chargers' offense. Danario Alexander is out for the season with a torn ACL, Malcom Floyd's knee sprain is going to keep him sidelined indefinitely, and Vincent Brown hasn't yet been able to put a hamstring injury behind him long enough to get on the field. That leaves the rookie Allen as perhaps River's top option in the passing game. Will he be up to the task?
Typically, a third round selection isn't going to be the sort of player in their rookie year that a team would be able to feel comfortable with playing such a significant role in an offense. However, Allen isn't a typical third round pick. Allen was Optimum Scouting's top ranked receiver heading into the draft, and was a top 15 player overall in his class.
Allen displays just about every trait you'd want to see in an NFL receiver. At 6'3, 214 lbs Allen has the good size, and while he's not got blazing speed he has the acceleration necessary to gain separation from opposing defensive backs. Further more, he's got solid hands and body control that allow him to take full advantage of the separation he gets from defenders. With such talent, it's not a stretch to compare him to current NFL receivers like Dez Bryant.
With such ability, why did a first round talent fall to the third round? Primarily, it all boils down to a PCL injury that cut Allen's season short in 2012. That, as well as an ankle injury that hampered Allen at the beginning of the 2012 season, led many teams to have some concerns about Allen's durability. And those concerns aren't without merit: just Tuesday, Allen had to cut his practice short to get treatment on his knee due to that previous PCL injury. Although the Chargers' don't seem to be concerned about this particular episode, it's still worrisome.
The fact that Allen's knee is acting up now that he's seeing starter's reps in training camp is certainly a problem, but the simple fact is that San Diego may not have any other choice but to use Allen earlier and more often than they had planned.
A glance at the depth chart reveals why. Eddie Royal is technically still listed ahead of Allen, but he'll be used almost exclusively as a slot receiver. Allen will be instead be battling with Robert Meachem for playing time on the outside. With rumors swirling that Meachem is a candidate to be cut in spite of the huge contract he signed with the team last season, it's obvious that San Diego is less than thrilled with his performance to this point. Even if he manages to stay on the roster, it's hard to picture him winning time over Allen.
His time in the spotlight may not have arrived as the Chargers would have hoped, but regardless of that it's becoming clear that Allen's time is starting in 2013. If he can stay healthy and live up to his potential, he could eventually be regarded as the steal of his draft class. And more importantly, he could help make the Chargers relevant again.