Keenan Allen Could Be Fantasy Football's Top Receiver in 2018
When it comes to injuries, the Los Angeles Chargers may just have the worst luck in the league.
In 2017, the team lost second-round draft pick Forrest Lamp and cornerback Jason Verrett to season-ending injuries, while first-rounder Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry missed multiple games nursing injuries of their own. In 2016, the team lost Verrett, Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead and, in the following year, Allen, Gordon and Ladarius Green.
It looks like they’re picking up right where they left off, too. Back in May, Henry tore his ACL, becoming the first of what could be many (if history sticks) injured Chargers in 2018.
To make matters worse for the team, they had just lost longtime starter Antonio Gates to retirement. Losing two tight ends in a matter of weeks leaves the team with a barren depth chart led by recent acquisition Virgil Green, who has just 71 catches and is most known for the blocking he has provided over his seven years in the league.
Losing valuable weapons is bad news for the Chargers, but one player stands to benefit most: Keenan Allen.
When Gates retired and Henry tore his ACL, they left behind 114 available targets from a season ago. That is, needless to say, a pretty significant share of targets to divide among the team's remaining options in the passing game.
The offense definitely takes a hit without these two, and especially without Hunter Henry. Henry was on the cusp of a real breakout last season and appeared to be primed for a great 2018. In 2017, he had a league-leading 93.3% Reception Success Rate -- the percentage of receptions that added expected points to his team’s total -- among qualifying tight ends. He was more successful on a per-reception basis than elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, and it was mystifying that the team didn’t get him more involved.
This year, they won’t be able to get him involved. That has to sting. While Henry only logged 45 receptions in 2017, the Chargers will absolutely miss his presence in 2018.
They’ll especially miss Henry’s and Gates’ presences near their opponents’ goal lines. Last year, Gates and Henry combined for 19 targets within the opposing team’s 10-yard line, and they accounted for almost 50% of the team’s 10-zone targets.
In other words, there are a lot of fantasy points up for grabs now, and Keenan Allen might just be the one to grab them.
The Allen Hype Train
Even before the news of Henry’s injury, Keenan Allen was already set up for another highly successful campaign. After finishing last year as the WR3 in PPR leagues, early drafters were selecting Allen in the mid-second round of their fantasy drafts, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Per their data, his ADP has risen a couple spots since late May, but that may not be high enough.
Allen’s 26.46% Target Market Share -- or the percent of his team’s total pass attempts in a season that were thrown his way -- ranked fourth in the league last year. It was a big leap for the young wide receiver, who had previously finished with Target Market Shares of 18.09%, 19.84%, and 12.57% in his first three seasons, respectively.
However, 2017 was the first time in his career that he played in all 16 games, a fact that our Target Market Share metric doesn’t account for. Those numbers look more impressive when you factor in that they were achieved in 15, 14 and 8 games, respectively. Allen played half a season in 2015 and still accounted for 12.57% of his team’s total targets that season -- that’s insane!
While such a high mark might usually tell us that regression is coming, the sheer volume of vacant targets from last year’s Chargers offense should be able to keep those lofty numbers afloat for Allen. That would put him in line for a top-5 wide receiver finish in 2018.
Not convinced? Let’s take a stab at a rough projection for Allen this year.
Taking Allen’s Target Market Share from last year and multiplying it by Philip Rivers' average of 572.25 pass attempts per season since 2010 would equate to roughly 151.42 targets. Allen has averaged a catch rate of 67.83%, meaning he could be expected to catch 102.71 passes. If he maintains his career average of 12.4 yards per reception, that would add up to 1,273.58 yards.
Finally, taking the league average from 2017 -- a down year for receivers -- of 1 receiving touchdown per roughly 205.66 receiving yards, that would give Allen 6.21 touchdowns for a final line of 102 receptions, 1,273.58 yards and 6.21 touchdowns. That’s 267.34 points in PPR leagues, which would have placed fourth last year (only behind DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown and himself).
That's just a simple baseline projection using his career averages and Target Market Share from last season. It pretty much left out the red zone opportunities that opened up, and ignored how much of a down year it was for wide receivers (wide receivers caught just 5,797 passes last year, almost a full 800 fewer passes than the previous year and the first time since 2011 they caught fewer than 6,000 as a group).
Now let's take those red zone opportunities into account.
With Henry and Gates in the lineup in 2017, Keenan Allen actually already had the second-most targets in the league from within the opponents’ 20-yard line (24) and from within the 10-yard line (15), trailing only Jimmy Graham. Allen's already-elite 10-zone target share and the available 10-zone targets vacated by Gates and Henry put Allen in position for an extreme outlier season.
It's not inconceivable that Allen would score double-digit touchdowns in 2018. In fact, our models have him projected for over 8 on 92 catches.
People were already drafting Keenan Allen in the second round of their drafts for a reason. He’s been a target monster his whole career and finished last season as the WR3 in PPR leagues. This season, Allen offers top-tier touchdown upside in addition to the elite volume we’ve come to expect from him.
Without Gates and Henry on game days, he has a realistic shot at being the WR1 in PPR leagues this year, and you can very confidently draft him in the second round of your fantasy drafts. It might be hard not to take a running back with your second pick, but getting the potential WR1 is too good of a value to pass up.