After a win last week against the Giants, San Diego is still firmly in the playoff race for the final spot in the AFC, battling with the Dolphins and Ravens. But with the Dolphins having the head to head advantage (a Miami win in Week 11) and the Ravens having a better conference winning percentage, the Chargers can’t afford to lose another game.
Now, with the final three games all must-wins, the Chargers offense will continue to put their fate in the hands of a revived Phillip Rivers and a rookie receiver in Keenan Allen. Despite falling on draft day to the 3rd round, this highly talented rookie receiver has emerged as Phillip Rivers’s favorite target and a viable rookie of the year candidate for San Diego.
Here’s what our pre-draft report said about Keenan Allen, who was our #1 rated receiver coming into the draft:
“A solid outstanding athlete, Allen lacks rare or elite qualities. Two things that stand out: his body control and acceleration after the catch. Allen is smooth with short area quick-twitch ability to evade defenders through routes or after the catch. He sink his hips very well in and out of breaks and shows very good acceleration out of cuts to create initial separation. He is savvy in routes using head and shoulder fakes but could be more consistent, especially on downfield routes.
Once Allen secures the ball he plants his foot and quickly accelerates upfield. When running through traffic he's more of a weaver than a "juker" and prefers a no-nonsense approach to get downfield. He is tough, neither afraid to go over the middle nor get physical when attacking the ball outside. Allen makes acrobatic adjustments look easy on poorly thrown balls near the sideline and shows boundary awareness. Allen worked hard to polish his game and should immediately be a No. 1 receiver”
After a slow start to his season, Allen burst into the spotlight with back to back 100+ yard games against Oakland and Indianapolis in Weeks 5 and 6, and hasn’t disappointed for this team since. He’s the leader in receiving yards for the team and among all rookies, on pace for over 1,100 yards, putting him Top 5 in most receiving yards for a rookie in NFL history.
For a receiver to have success in the NFL, especially as a rookie where routes aren’t perfected yet, the basic three areas where you need to win are off the line of scrimmage, at the catch-point, and as a runner after the catch. In college and now in the pros, Allen has had success in all three areas, including in the team’s win over the Giants, despite having just three catches.
Off the line of scrimmage, Allen utilizes his size (listed at 6’2 and 211), strength, and active hands to disengage from press coverage and win initially against would-be physical cornerbacks. In an NFL where defensive backs are focused on disrupting downfield plays before they start (thanks to the plethora of interference and holding calls), winning off the line is key for an NFL receiver. The play below highlights his active hands and strength to shove off the cornerback (Prince Amukamara) and break up-field on a quick slant route that resulted in a first down.
Allen, at 6’2, has the reach to grab the ball away from his body, something he does cleanly and efficiently. Rarely a body catcher, Allen attacks the ball vertically and separates in air from his defender without needing to initiate potential interference contact. A naturally fluid athlete, he relies on jump timing and body control to attack the ball, immediately giving him a major leg up on any defensive back that’s not his size.
And as for his ability after the catch, Allen thrives on regaining his balance easily and consistently once he attacks the ball in the air, allowing him to immediately get control and direct himself upfield. Working this year outside and in the slot, Allen has become the go-to option for Rivers when faced with single man coverage because of his big play ability after the catch. The play below is of Allen working in the slot, running a quick fade and getting a nice bubble around him to give him separation, exploding to the catch-point, and never losing speed as he tip-toes his way to a touchdown.
Playing the receiver position as a rookie is one of the most difficult college-to-pro adjustments in the NFL. The NFL is far more physical, the windows are far smaller, and the speed of linebackers and defensive backs is far more impactful than at the college level. That’s why team’s rarely assume their rookie receivers are going to have major impacts for their team, and generally wait until year two or three to see returns.
That being said, Allen’s immediate contribution shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who watched him in college. Our top receiver in last year’s class should have been a Top 15 pick if not for an ACL injury late in his final season and a rumored positive drug test at the NFL Combine.
Allen fell to the third round of the NFL Draft, about 50 picks longer than he should have waited to here his name called. But as he plays with a Pro Bowl level quarterback, on a team in the playoff hunt, and being the number one receiver in his offense, Allen landed in a situation that has allowed him to have immediate success. Now, he’ll need to continue thriving in his role as the Chargers hope to ride their recent success into a AFC playoff berth.