What's Wrong With Keenan Allen?
Unless you were turned off by a new offensive coordinator in San Diego, Allen seemed relatively foolproof. He was coming off of a stellar rookie season and was trending upward with the resurgence of Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense. Notwithstanding a big game in Week 4 against the the lowly-Jaguars, Allen has been a massive disappointment this year.
Has Allen regressed, talent-wise? Is our sure-bet breakout wide receiver not getting open as often as he once was last year? Or is it a mechanism of how San Diego’s offense is structured? What can we expect out of Allen for the rest of the season? These are all questions that need answers, and we’ll explore the range of options for the rest of Allen’s 2014 season.
No Touchdowns, No Glory
Here’s the weird thing about Allen so far this year: he is on one of the NFL's most effective offenses, yet he doesn't have weekly consistency in fantasy. The Chargers rank ninth in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, which indicates that they are the ninth-most efficient offense in the NFL in terms of adding points to the scoreboard. Their passing attack ranks at the top of the league by a significant portion, earning 0.36 points per pass when adjusted for schedule strength.
To make things even more perplexing, he is actually receiving slightly more targets per game than he was in 2013.
So, something doesn't add up. What's the common denominator? Simply put: Allen just isn’t scoring touchdowns. The following table is Allen’s per-game averages in his 15 regular season games in his rookie season and his first 6 games this season.
|Targets||Receptions||Yards||TDs||Red Zone targets|
|2014 per-game pace||7.00||4.67||49.33||0.00||0.83|
|2013 per-game pace||6.73||4.73||69.73||0.53||1.33|
We’ve established that one of the big problems is that Allen just simply isn't scoring touchdowns like he did in 2013, but is there more to the story? To achieve a more accurate perspective, it’s important to look at how other receivers are used in the same system.
As evidenced by the numbers, it’s not as if Allen has just disappeared in the Chargers offense (even though it may seem that way). He’s still leading the team in targets but just hasn’t gotten the same amount of scoring opportunities he had in 2013. Here’s the crazy thing, 14 of Philip Rivers’ 15 touchdowns have gone to only three non-running back pass catchers: Antonio Gates (6), Eddie Royal (5), and Malcom Floyd (3). If two or three of those Eddie Royal touchdowns go to Allen instead, I probably wouldn’t have to write this article. But here we are.
In terms of Reception NEP, Allen just does not stack up to his teammates this year, largely because of his touchdown dearth. Of the 73 receivers with at least 15 receptions this year, Allen's Reception NEP ranks just 43rd. (In case you're curious, Harvin's is last, and Patterson's is 65th.)
Royal and Floyd have much better Reception NEP scores. Royal ranks 20th with a Reception NEP of 33.67. Floyd is a spot above him at 19th with a Reception NEP of 33.73.
As mentioned before, Allen is leading the Chargers in targets, so his per-target Reception NEP is even worse compared to the receivers with 15 receptions or more. Adding just 0.55 points per target, Allen ranks 52nd out of 73. Royal gives the Chargers nearly a full point (0.99) per target, fourth-best in the entire league. Floyd? Well, he is first in the league out of qualifying receivers. His Reception NEP per target is 1.35.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Chargers aren't moving Allen around to get him going. Perpetual touchdown-vulture and fantasy nuisance Eddie Royal has ran 85.8% of his total routes out of the slot compared to Allen's 16.7%. While it is annoying for fantasy owners, Eddie Royal was their slot receiver last year as well.
It might make sense to move Allen around in their formations more, especially in the red zone, but this is the same team that literally refuses to use freak-athlete and touchdown producer Ladarius Green in any meaningful way. While Philip Rivers is one of the best quarterbacks in football, it’s well-known that the Bolts head coach, Mike McCoy, sometimes doesn’t use his best players in the most efficient ways. So, should you be freaking out?
Can You Trust Keenan Allen Anytime Soon?
Allen will score this year. At least I hope. The fact is that while he is being used and targeted in a similar fashion as last year, Chargers pass catchers in general are hard to trust. Seven Chargers are averaging 2.2 or more targets per game, which means that Rivers is spreading it around a ton outside of the red zone. This coincides with Allen's apparent touchdown dependency. While Allen is averaging seven targets per game, that sort of volume can’t sustain fantasy value without getting into the end zone.
I’ll be honest, though. I’m not bailing on Allen just yet. He’s being targeted at the same pace as last year and is still somewhat involved in the Chargers red zone offense, as evidenced by his 5 targets inside of the 20-yard line. Does that mean Allen is a buy-low? Probably.
As of right now, he’s a hard-to-trust, low-end WR3, but if he does start scoring near his 2013-clip (0.53 TDs per game) he will elevate himself back up to an every-week WR2 in one of the NFL’s hottest offenses.
If the Allen owner in your league is totally freaked out, I think I would try and acquire Allen dirt cheap. What do you have to lose? If Keenan Allen continues to bust and you didn’t give up much to acquire him, there is nothing lost. But if he does return to 2013 scoring form, you just put a solid WR2 on your roster at minimal cost.