Fantasy Football: Keenan Allen Could Be Even Better in 2021
There have been fewer more consistent performers at the wide receiver position in recent years than Keenan Allen. The Los Angeles Chargers pass-catcher is in the top tier when it comes to production since 2017 and has converted his opportunities into plenty of fantasy points.
Fantasy managers are betting on him producing again in the 2021 season, and if Allen's offensive coordinator realizes he's better suited to a role he'd like to give to another player, he could be an absolute beast in the coming year.
Since shedding the "injury-prone" tag in 2017, Allen has proven to be one of the most durable and productive wide receivers in the entire NFL. He missed two games in 2020, the first contests he has sat out since 2016.
Dating back to 2017, Allen has commanded 591 targets, the second-most among all wide receivers. Only two players have more receptions than Allen (403) over this span, and he is fifth in receiving yards with 4,780 and has scored 26 touchdowns, the 11th-most. Allen is the overall WR4 in PPR formats during this period.
He has been uber consistent with his fantasy production and not limited to spike weeks in-between weeks of minimal output. Allen has been a top-24 player 32 times in the 62 game weeks he has played since 2017, with 21 weeks inside the top 12.
A Good But Inefficient 2020
In 2020, Allen was fifth among all wide receivers with 147 targets and 100 receptions. However, disappointingly, he managed just 992 receiving yards.
Allen joins a select group of players since 2010 with 100 or more receptions and fewer than 1,000 receiving yards. Jarvis Landry in 2017 is the only other wide receiver to "achieve" this feat, with the other two being running backs Matt Forte (2014) and Christian McCaffrey (2018). But Allen's catches -- plus his eight receiving scores -- helped him to 17.4 PPR points per game, good for WR6.
It was the volume that propped up Allen in quite a big way last season. He was a long way off being among the league leaders from an efficiency point of view. Allen averaged 0.27 Target Net Expected Points (NEP) per target -- or the number of expected points added across all targets -- and was 31st out of 36 wide receivers with at least 100 targets. When narrowing things down to his efficiency when he caught the ball, he wasn't that much better. He was 30th in terms of Reception NEP per target with 0.63. But in fantasy terms, volume trumps efficiency.
The Chargers are fancied to be contenders in 2021, with a new coaching staff expected to build their program around talented second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. In fantasy, it would seem to make sense to trust in a player who was Herbert's favorite target a year ago, especially with such a stellar record of production in recent years.
Well, yes, it would. But...
What Role Will Allen Play?
There was a distinct difference in how Allen was used in 2020 when running back Austin Ekeler was on the field compared to when he was out. Allen's opportunities were identical, with 10.5 targets per game with or without Ekeler.
But in the six games Ekeler missed, Allen averaged 8.2 receptions for 84.7 yards, scoring 21.3 PPR points. This would have been good for WR3 last season. But when Ekeler was in the lineup, Allen caught 6.4 passes for 60.5 yards, averaging just 14.7 PPR points (WR23).
Why such a discrepancy? One reason is air yards. Allen racked up 83.5 air yards per game when Ekeler was playing but only 67.2 when Ekeler was missing. So without the running back, Allen was given targets closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing him to do damage after the catch, which he did with 433 yards after the catch in 2020 (10th among wide receivers).
Lombardi has also been effusive in his praise for Allen's teammate, Mike Williams. Lombardi says that Williams will play the "X" receiver role for the Chargers, the same role that Michael Thomas plays for the Saints. Some would have us believe that this means Williams is going to be fed slant routes all season long.
But the fact of the matter is the Saints' "X" does see a host of targets closer to the line of scrimmage. I would like to see Allen playing this role if it was up to me. We saw last season that Allen was nothing short of a beast when receiving shorter targets. Hopefully, this coach speak will not translate into reality when the season starts. But it has to be considered.
Keenan Allen's 2021 Fantasy Football Projection
In terms of ADP, Allen is the WR10 over at NFC, going off the board in the third round of drafts. Our projections here at numberFire have him finishing the year as the WR9. Allen should be among the leaders in fantasy points at his position once again.
But if Joe Lombardi realizes that Allen is the perfect square peg for the square hole that is the "X" receiver, then Allen could be an absolute superstar. Say it won't be so, Joe.