Wide receiver can be difficult to evaluate and easy to overlook because it is so dependent on the quarterback position. As a sophomore, Keenan Allen had 98 receptions for 1,343 yards and 6 touchdowns. Allen was so overwhelming that his teammate Marvin Jones went virtually undiscovered until he flashed on the scene in the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, despite his tremendous talent, Allen had a miserable junior season by his standards because the quarterback play was so putrid limiting his opportunities to stand out as the outstanding player he is. In spite of the less than stellar junior year, Allen showed enough on tape and has enough physical skill and potential to warrant a pick in the top half of the first round in the upcoming NFL draft.
Allen is listed at 6’3” 210lbs. He has a lean build with a frame that will allow him to add bulk. He shows strong hands and snatches the ball out of the air well. He has great body control and balance. His feet and quickness are exceptional and he possesses enough speed to chop the head off of a defense. Allen has potential to get better physically and can become a more imposing player as he develops.
In terms of his technique, Allen is the best in the draft in a few areas. His route running is excellent. Allen is not just running routes anymore. He is working on the little things that will make him stand out at the next level. Allen Is playing the man instead of the route. He can run the same route in a number of different ways and has shown the ability to set up defenders. Allen has terrific awareness for the game and recognizes what defenses are trying to do. He will cut off routes and find openings if he sees the blitz coming or find holes in the zone to give his quarterback a target. The area that stands out the most is how Allen sets up his body and his feet as the ball is coming to him to be able to make a move as soon as he catches the ball. Most receivers will set their feet, secure the catch and then proceed to try to make a play after the catch; exactly how they are coached to do. Allen takes it to the next level by setting up his body and his feet to make a move as soon as he catches the ball. There are plenty of pros who are not able to do this and Allen was doing it as a sophomore in college. No one in the draft goes from receiver to ball carrier better than Allen and a testament to his concentration as well as his quick feet. Allen may not have the best sprinter’s speed in the draft but on more than a few occasions, he has beaten defensive backs in his first or second step because he has such good quick twitch movements, which not only allow him to make something out of nothing on bubble screens but makes him a dynamic runner after the catch. He tracks the deep ball well and does a good job of putting his body in between the ball and the defender. The one area that stands out where Allen can improve and make himself look even quicker is also the easiest to address; his stance. Allen tends to stand too tall and roll out of his stance. If he got lower to the ground and did not waste motion going down to go forward, he would be even quicker.
Allen has shown great hands and rarely drops the ball. He has a huge catch radius and has shown the ability to stretch out for the football whether it is high, low, or behind him. The area that stands out the most in terms of Allen’s ability to catch the ball is his vision and his ability to concentrate on the football. Whether he gets bumped with contact or players flash in front of the ball, he is able to find the ball, focus on it, and catch it. He can catch the ball in traffic and he can locate and catch tipped balls and fight for balls with defensive backs. Allen is fearless going over the middle and will go for the ball in any situation.
As an open field runner, Allen is a nightmare. He is so quick when catching the ball that he is able to set up a move as soon as he has secured it making it difficult to tackle him. He also has good field vision and uses quick, subtle moves that allow him to keep going forward, down the field. Allen generally prefers to use agility to avoid defenders, but he is not afraid to lower his shoulder and pick up tough yards when needed. He has a good sense for where the first down marker is and can get to it. He is a dynamic player that is not afraid to leap over defenders and has had a ton of success making meager gains into huge ones and is always a threat to get to the end zone even if he does not have elite speed.
In terms of fit, Allen can play in any scheme a team can throw at him, but he would be at his best in an offense that lets him catch and run with the ball. He excels in slants, crosses, and any other route that lets him catch and run. Allen is also a threat to go deep and because of his intelligence in setting up defenders and running routes, he can get behind defensive backs and make big plays. Allen profiles as a #1 receiver and he could be a special player if he is paired with a good quarterback in the right situation, especially if he is drafted into a domed or nice weather environment. Allen can also contribute as a punt returner. Because of his quickness and field vision, he was able to an impressive 14.13 yards per return as a junior with a touchdown. This was an ability he really had not shown as a freshman and sophomore but came into his own this season and just adds another area where he can impact a team
The comparison for Keenan Allen might be Chad Johnson, the former Oregon State Beaver and longtime Cincinnati Bengal. This is purely in his style of play. Assuming Allen does not shrink when he is officially measured in, he is actually a bigger version of Johnson. Johnson, like Allen has that lean physique, great feet, and the ability to make quick cuts. Allen is a far more polished and dedicated football player in terms of improving his craft. As a result, Allen could end up enjoying a longer career because of his ability to learn and adjust. A team would be thrilled to get a talent like Chad Johnson in the first round, but a bigger version that is less eccentric is an even bigger pickup.
It is doubtful teams will hold Allen’s situation at Cal against him, because he was still able to showcase why he is the best receiver prospect in the draft. The areas where he excels, he does better than a number of professional wide receivers, which is why he could make an instant impact in the NFL. All rookies have to make adjustments, but he is doing a number of things that seasoned veterans are still learning to do already and will do as a rookie. The one question he has to answer is how he will block, because there was not enough of it to evaluate. Nevertheless, his physical potential, his technique, and overall playmaking ability, he warrants a pick in the first half of the first round.
Ohio State & USC 2012
USC, Texas, Washington 2011
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