How good is California receiver Keenan Allen?

Keenan Allen is one of the toughest guys to work out. He definitely looks the part. Allen’s listed at 6-3, 210lbs by ESPN, although had him at 6-2 during recruiting. Either way he’ll handle the physical nature of the NFL and shouldn’t have too much difficulty competing with the bigger corners we’re seeing in the pro’s.

He came into the 2012 season being touted as a likely first round pick. The thing is, he was never going to get there with production. California’s passing game isn’t even mediocre and Allen was fortunate to register 737 yards and six touchdowns before picking up a season-ending knee injury. Has he shown enough quality within a limited passing offense to warrant a first round grade? The jury’s out.

Size is good, but you have to be able to do something with it. If a receiver can’t get downfield or create separation, he’s going to be pretty limited at the next level. Allen’s a good route runner which helps and he’s been able to find space with crisp breaks and a suddenness off the snap. What he hasn’t shown is that ability to consistently break off big plays in the open field or make downfield completions. His biggest play of the year was a 69 yard catch and run against Washington State for a touchdown (click here). Apart from that? In four games this season his biggest play failed to top 25 yards. His touchdown against Washington State is the only play of 50+ yards this year. The highlight reel would be pretty short.

Of course i’s not all about big plays or statistics and again – we have to keep stressing how weak the offense has been at California. It’s cost Jeff Tedford his job as Head Coach. A lack of explosion is a legitimate question mark with Allen though – is he special enough to warrant the high pick? Does athleticism match frame? Jonathan Baldwin had similarly poor production at Pittsburgh and also seemingly had a rare combination of size and speed. However, Baldwin flashed multiple big plays even within a bad offense at Pitt. And when he got to Indianapolis, he did enough to convince the Kansas City Chiefs they needed to spend a late first round pick on his services.

Allen’s lack of pure speed is the biggest concern as well as balance. On too many plays he appears to stumble and lose balance quickly. For a player who is very controlled and crisp with his routes, there are quite a few missed opportunities where he trips up trying to make YAC. As for the speed, listed his high school forty yard dash as 4.57. They graded him as a five star safety prospect who also played receiver, but raised questions about his closing speed in the secondary. “Not incredible speed, but more than enough to get the job done” is how they put it.

Allen had a lot of admirers in high school, including all the big talent recruiters – Alabama, Clemson, North Carolina and Oregon. He turned down the chance to stay in state with UNC or Clemson to join his half-brother Zach Maynard at California. Here are the positives as I see it – frame, good hands catcher, very competitive individual on the field, route runner and for a receiver he comes across as a humble and hard working team mate. There are plenty of reasons why you’d consider drafting Allen in the first or second round.

However, few prospects have as much to gain (or lose) from the combine. The list of positives above look very good alongside a 6-3, 210lbs receiver who runs something like a 4.45. With straight line speed like that, you can work on his open field running and feel a little more confident he can offer something downfield at the next level. He’s added about 20lbs since high school when he supposedly ran a 4.57. If he gets to Indianapolis and matches that time – or even gets into the 4.6’s – that will have a big negative impact on his draft stock.

There are other receivers eligible for 2013 (such as Markus Wheaton and DeAndre Hopkins) who lack the size and frame of Allen, but have all of the same route running skills, the hands, the attitude – but they also have deep speed and an X-Factor that’s been lacking in Allen’s game. It might be a year where we don’t see a receiver leave the board in the first round, but eventually it’s going to get very competitive with multiple players at the position leaving the board quickly. Flashing big-time athleticism at the combine is key for Allen and will make or break his stock. It’ll determine whether he goes in the late first like Jonathan Baldwin, or whether he ends up being the 5th or 6th receiver off the board.


  1. James

    Some team is sure to reach for a WR in R1, but I hope it isn’t the Seahawks. Allen is one of several WRs mentioned for late R1, but who are clearly R2 or R3 talents. Far too much talent all across the defense, especially DL, to reach in R1. Some very good OLBs who could take over for Hill (see CJ Moseley), but good LBs can be found in the mid rounds. Go DL in R1, at least one elite talent should still be there.

  2. Brian

    It doesn’t seem like an accident that Cal uses him in the slot despite his size; he appears to do a good job of fighting for yards after the catch despite some inaccurate throws. If the QB would hit him in stride it seems like he could do a lot more.

    I kind of feel the same way about him as I did last year with Blackmon (although Blackmon is better.) Allen is a good receiver but doesn’t have elite separation, route running or physicality. The biggest appeal is catch radius, but Larry Fitzgerald is the only elite wideout in the NFL in that mold I can think of, and he is much faster and more physical than Allen.

    • Michael

      How about Marques Colston as a comp? He works in the slot quite a bit, and certainly isn’t a burner. Haven’t seen Allen play much, just going off your description above…

  3. Christon

    Great analysis Rob. Yeah, I’m not super high on Allen either – and have no idea why he would warrant first round consideration by some draft analysis’s. I struggle to see his upside. He may be a forth or fifth WR at the next level but I just don’t have much confidence that he would ever turn the corner. When Pete and John draft a guy – they look for a specific trait that a player does really well – and has (ie height, length, break tackle ablity, incredible speed, etc.), I don’t see one really unique trait that sets this guy apart from any other receiver. Therefore, I would be shocked to see the Seahawks draft him before the 4th round.

  4. Darnell

    Speaking of guys that suffer because of their offense, someone is going to get a steal with Emory Blake.

  5. Chris

    Doesn’t seem to have NFL speed for an X or Y, and isn’t nearly quick enough for a Z (and seems to have a problem just keeping his feet with cuts).

    His habit of looking for the ball far before it would be delivered I also find annoying. The good receivers don’t even act like there’s a ball coming until it’s already delivered into their grill. They go 100% until it’s already on its way. This guy makes a cut and starts opening up his arms and looking for the quarterback … which could also explain his lack of separation … he should be working to earn distance, not stopping routes to look for a ball.

    Other than his height and seemingly decent hands, I don’t see anything else there.

  6. NMD

    I think you guys are under rating Keenan Allen at this point, I think he’s at least a good #2 WR. He’s not a burner but I think he’s got enough speed to go deep and make plays down field. With his route running and size I see him as a go to possession guy who will be the one you want to get third down targets. I’d say he’s just about as shifty as a runner as a guy that size can be without being freakish (Patterson). I think he’d be a great fit with Seattle and would be happy to see him picked in the late first round.

    • Rob Staton

      Solid #2 possession receivers don’t tend to go in round one, though. If he’s running nearly a 4.6 which seems realistic, it’s not good enough.

      • NMD

        I should have been clearer in my thoughts. I think his floor is a good #2 WR which would be like a top 10 #2 guy in the league. I like his chances to be a #1 guy and there’s a few teams where he’d be there top option off the bat. I don’t think he’s slow and I expect him to be closer to cracking 4.50 then 4.60.

  7. MJ

    Not claiming insider knowledge by any means, but therenare some rumblings around Cal after the Tedford fiasco. Expect Allen to drop significantly in the draft. I don’t want to speculate on details that I don’t concretely know, but let’s just say it’s enough to concern every GM. If true, he will turn off a lot of teams. And no, it’s not drugs and breaking team rules and it’s not enough to be dropped completely off draft boards.

    We shall see if it’s true come draft day or if things happen to leak out in public. If true, don’t expect him to be a Seahawk (would be my guess).

    • Rob Staton

      Interesting… wonder what it could be?

  8. MJ

    Keep an eye out for Jamal-Rashad Patterson, WR Stanford. Could be one of those odd late round picks. Former track star, nice build. This is his first season of production. Big play guy with serious speed. Very intriguing dude indeed.

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