Keenan Allen Is the NFL's Most Underappreciated Star

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 6, 2019

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen during an NFL football training camp in Costa Mesa, Calif., Monday, July 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

When you play for the Chargers, it takes a viral video for people to realize just how good you are.

The Chargers posted a video on Sunday across their various social media platforms of Keenan Allen running a route in practice that was so effective, it looked like an act of sorcery. He ran what appeared at first to be a deep out pattern, paused for a frozen moment to cast a spell near the sideline, and then blurred up the field while mind-clouded defenders chased his shadow in the wrong direction.

If you follow training camp news on Twitter, you know videos like that usually bring out the "umm, actually" experts eager to share their insights as to why a move like Allen's wouldn't work in a real game or how a practice highlight wasn't as good as it looked. But the naysayers were mostly silent about Allen's video. For once, an internet divided over everything from dress colors to basic math problems came together in praise and appreciation of Allen.

Attention and appreciation are relatively rare for Allen, who may be the NFL's most overlooked elite-position player.

Oh sure, you appreciate Allen now that we've jogged your memory. But be honest: How often have you thought about him since the start of training camp? If you were asked to list the NFL's best receivers five minutes before you clicked this article, chances are you would have run down a long list of the usual suspects, only getting to Allen with an "oops, almost forgot" after some intense brainstorming.

He always seems to be left out of the elite receiver conversation. He's the 17th-highest-paid receiver in the league, per OverTheCap.com, and while that contract expires in 2020, he has made no contract rumblings. 

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The lack of attention even extends to the gaming realm. He was given an 89 overall rating in the Madden 20 video game: not bad, but a little low for someone who has caught 199 passes in the last two seasons. He responded to the rating with a funny, mildly profane rant, which was also posted on social media by the Chargers, where he complains about a speed rating of 87 ("Bro, ain't nobody just running with me step for step," Allen says) and strength rating of 69 ("Like I'm a little boy").

The Madden game developers may have underrated Allen a bit. But that's not the point. The point is that even Allen's complaints didn't get all that much attention. Sure, some media outlets aggregated the comments, but a video of Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown cussing about his Madden rating would have led the midday sports-talk shows and melted your smartphone. Allen is so underappreciated that even his complaints about being underappreciated are relatively underappreciated.

Allen gets overlooked for some obvious reasons. The Chargers marooned their San Diego fans two years ago and have been playing their games in a glorified microbrewery outside of Los Angeles. They are almost always the "other" late-afternoon game, except when they travel to the East Coast to play a game that kicks off at 10 a.m. Los Angeles time and is probably blacked out in your region.

Also, Allen just isn't as much of an attention-seeker as some of his fellow top receivers.

Michael Thomas makes news by signing a hefty new contract. Julio Jones makes news by waiting for one. Brown's grody feet were on blast for days. Beckham signs a license plate and the world watches. They all have a flair for the dramatic except...wait, who were we talking about again?

Oh yeah, Keenan Allen.  

Because of the unfavorable television schedule and the lack of extracurricular buzz, most fans engage Allen only through his fantasy stats and some occasional highlights. And since Allen is far more effective on short passes over the middle than on flashy deep throws—he also took umbrage with his lowly deep-route rating of 75 on Madden—his highlights don't always sizzle when compared to Beckham's acrobatics or Jones' ability to shrug away defenders.

Factor in injury-marred 2015 and 2016 seasons, which derailed Allen's early rise to stardom, and it's easy to forget that Allen has been to two Pro Bowls, earned Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2017 and caught a 43-yard touchdown against the Patriots in the playoffs in January before that game turned into a runaway.

And while some may overlook Allen, his peers are well aware of how good he is.

Allen ranked 38th on the annual NFL's Top 100 countdown, which is voted on by players. Yes, that's below Brown (seventh), Jones (ninth), DeAndre Hopkins (11th), Thomas (13th), Tyreek Hill (19th), Beckham (23rd) and some other receivers. But take a moment to look at who Allen ranks ahead of: teammates Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa (48th and 56th); Ben Roethlisberger (44th) and other franchise quarterbacks; big-name receivers like Mike Evans (53rd), A.J. Green (58th), Amari Cooper (64th) and T.Y Hilton (70th), every offensive lineman in the league (David Bakhtiari, 43rd overall, paced that group) and of course the hundreds of veteran starters and buzzy upstarts who didn't make the list.

The Top 100 television countdown is no more authoritative than any other set of rankings; many players just scribble down a mix of teammates, college pals and all-time legends when they are handed the survey. The list's emphasis on skill-position players reveal that even fellow players are influenced by stats and media attention. But Allen's ranking shows the high esteem he is held in by those who play with and against him.

Allen told reporters at Chargers camp last week that he feels "amazing" and that he has been emphasizing "prehab before rehab" to ward off injuries. He also acknowledged that he feels the need to prove something, not just to video game programmers but to everyone who overlooks him.

"Not even just to prove something because they don't think I'm that good," Allen clarified. "It's because that's just how I am. I like proving myself."

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Allen sounds poised for another Pro Bowl year in a stacked offense for a team that went 12-4 last year and belongs on the short list of AFC contenders. So all the news out of Chargers camp was about, you guessed it, Melvin Gordon's contract holdout. At least until Allen opened a rift in the time-space continuum to juke out a defender in practice, that is.

The fact that the internet went wild over Allen's training camp video is a sign that we are still a month away from real games, two days away from fake games and are so starving for action that we'll drool over every football-like morsel we can get. We'll soon have real highlights to savor, but history tells us that even Allen's best performances can be overshadowed by Beckham wrestling with sideline equipment or Brown bickering with a rando on Instagram.

Allen has everything it takes to be a superstar except your attention. Try not to forget about him once the season starts, because there are few players in the league quite like him, and he deserves to be appreciated.

                   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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