Why the Chargers' Keenan Allen Is a Legitimate Rookie of the Year Candidate

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Why the Chargers' Keenan Allen Is a Legitimate Rookie of the Year Candidate
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Players slip in the draft for a variety of reasons, but draft status goes out the window once they make it to the NFL. While that's true on the field, it's not as true when it comes to voting for Rookie of the Year. The media latches on to first-round draft picks and occasionally a second-round pick, but almost never a third-round pick or lower.

When Bleacher Report's expert panel predicted the Rookie of the Year in September, not one player selected was drafted below the second round. The Associated Press hasn't selected an Offensive Rookie of the Year that was drafted in the third round or lower since 2003, or on defense in a quarter century.

San Diego Chargers rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen is a legitimate candidate for Rookie of the Year, even if it's going to be difficult for him to get the kind of media attention needed to win the award as a third-round draft pick.

There are bigger names in bigger cities that are going to steal the spotlight, but there's no doubt Allen is a legitimate candidate. Unlike Allen's competition for the award, he also plays a position that is notoriously difficult for young players.

 

Productivity and Clutch 

After 10 weeks of the season, Allen leads all rookies in yards, receptions of 20 or more yards and first downs. About the only receiving categories Allen doesn't lead all rookies in are receptions and touchdowns, but he's not far behind.

For example, Allen leads all rookie wide receivers in receptions and a 10-reception performance Sunday would tie him with Washington's rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who has played an additional game. Allen is also only two touchdowns behind the rookie leader and he's scored in three of his last four games.

Keenan Allen Rookie Statistics
Reception Yards Touchdowns First Downs 20+ Yard Receptions
Value 34 527 3 28 10
NFL Rank 45 26 32 21 8
Position Rank 32 23 24 16 7
Rookie Rank 2 1 6 1 1
Rookie Position Rank 1 1 5 1 1

nfl.com

When it comes to rookies, Allen is also the king of clutch. Allen is one of the most clutch wide receivers in the entire league according to John Pollard of STATS LLC, ranking 16th in the entire NFL with 28 such receptions. As defined by STATS LLC, a clutch catch is one that results in a first down or a touchdown.

A whopping 82.4 percent of Allen's catches have been first downs and he's also caught three touchdowns. According to NFL.com, only three of Allen's 34 receptions have not been a first down or a touchdown.

Allen also only has two drops on the season per ProFootballFocus (subscription required). Allen had a bad drop last week, but he has been very sure-handed this season. Every receiver is going to drop a ball on occasion. As long as it doesn't become a trend, there is nothing about his hands that should hold him back.

Thrust into a starting role because of injuries, Allen is developing quite quickly into quarterback Philip Rivers' go-to wide receiver. It's just seven games and six starts into his career and Allen has already become the most targeted wide receiver in San Diego.

Rookies With 1,100 Receiving Yards Since 1970
Player Year Yards Touchdowns
Anquan Boldin 2003 1377 8
Randy Moss 1998 1313 17
Michael Clayton 2004 1193 7
Terry Glenn 1996 1132 6
Bill Brooks 1986 1131 8
Keenan Allen (Pace) 2013 1129 9

pro-football-reference.com

Allen is just as much a part of the offense as tight end Antonio Gates or running back Danny Woodhead, and he's emerged as his team's No. 1 receiver—no other rookie receiver in the league can say that. Allen isn’t wasting his additional opportunities and is currently averaging 15.5 yards per reception.

If Allen maintains his current 75.3 yards-per-game pace over the final eight games, he'll become just the sixth rookie receiver since the merger with over 1,100 receiving yards and the first since 2004. Names on the list of six include Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin—both won the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Field

On offense, the other contenders at the moment for Rookie of the Year include Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy and Cincinnati Bengals running back Gio Bernard. Lacy is on pace for over 1,400 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns and Bernard over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.

The problem with making Lacy or Bernard the Rookie of the Year is they aren't even on pace to come close to matching the rookie performances of Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin and Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris from last year. Neither Martin nor Morris won Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Does Eddie Lacy deserve to be Rookie of the Year just because he's the best rookie running back?

In the last 42 years, 35 rookie running backs have had over 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 83 have gone over 1,100 yards. It just doesn't make sense to give an offensive award to a rookie for merely being the best that year at a position that almost always has at least one rookie putting up big numbers.

The favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year is usually a quarterback, but it's tough to envision it going to Mike Glennon, Geno Smith or EJ Manuel at this point. Only Glennon has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and has more touchdowns than interceptions, but the Buccaneers are 0-8.

Smith might have a chance if he leads the New York Jets to the playoffs, but he'll also need to improve significantly in the second half of the season to merit the award based on his on-field performance. Manuel has missed a good chunk of games, his team isn't great and he hasn't been super productive, so his chances are also pretty slim.

Other candidates could emerge in the second half of the season, but right now it's a pretty uninspiring group of rookies on offense. A similar scenario played out in 2009 when wide receiver Percy Harvin won the award as the rookie quarterbacks struggled and no rookie running backs even cracked 1,000 yards on the ground.

Harvin had 60 receptions for 790 yards receiving and six touchdowns his rookie year, added 135 rushing, returned two kicks for touchdowns and averaged 27.5 yards per kick return. Harvin was an all-purpose selection in a year that featured few worthy candidates.

If things continue, there's no reason Allen shouldn't be considered the favorite for the award. Even if defensive players are included (the Associated Press splits the award), the best defensive players this year are run defenders.

Although defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson will battle for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it's tough to choose either of them over Allen for an overall award at this juncture. There is a lot of football left, but Allen isn't getting enough credit for the season he is having.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via pro-football-reference.com and nfl.com. Note: I've reached out to STATS LLC regarding the variance of three clutch receptions between nfl.com stats and the STATS LLC graphic linked within. 

 

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