Is Keenan Allen Underrated?


Fantasy football is a game of numbers.  Be it production on the field, advanced metrics or combine measurements, seemingly every qualitative aspect of the game can be turned into a quantitative one.  But just shy of a year ago, when it came to soon-to-be rookie receiver Keenan Allen, seemingly only one number mattered – 4.71.

For those who don’t remember, that’s the injury-aided 40-yard dash time (in seconds) recorded by the former University of California Golden Bear at his personal pro day.  Once thought of as a surefire first round prospect, Allen’s stock quickly plummeted into that of a third round “possession” receiver, one whose future outlook no longer excited us as it once did.  Not to be outdone by “real life” football, Allen even fell out of the first round of many dynasty rookie drafts, as he was suddenly labeled as a player who just “didn’t jump off the screen.”

Long story short, the masses were proven wrong, and definitively so.  Allen lapped the rookie pass-catching field en route to recording only the second 1,000-yard season by a freshman wideout, along with the Bengals’ AJ Green, in the past several years.  This output saw the young Charger finish second in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year, behind only Packers’ running back Eddie Lacy.

Speaking to his production, consider the table below.


The raw numbers are phenomenal, but as always it behooves us to dig a little deeper.  Despite the 17th highest yards-per-catch statistic (amongst players with at least 50 receptions), Allen still caught an extremely high proportion of his passes (67.6%).  This manifested itself in the form of a mind-boggling 10.0 yards-per-target (YPT) statistic, a number only slightly trumped by stars Josh Gordon (10.4 YPT) and Jordy Nelson (10.3 YPT) amongst the PPR top 30 receivers.  This efficiency is also seen in his PPR points-per-target (PPT) statistic, as Allen sported a sublime figure of 2.13 PPT.

Continuing, Allen’s season wasn’t buoyed by a couple of “fluke” performances.  In fact, consider his seasonal splits, broken down into quarters (plus playoffs):


After a slow start (Allen didn’t play in week one), his subsequent splits would’ve seen him ranked as the WR4 (games 5-8), WR25 (games 9-12), WR18 (games 13-16) and WR10 (playoffs) in terms of PPR points-per-game relative to the seasonal stats of all receivers.  While the second quarter was clearly his best, Allen posted starter-worthy statistics for nearly the entire season, often as a mid-range WR2 or better.  Allen’s finish as the PPR WR18 was well-earned.

So by virtue of blowing all this smoke up Allen’s you-know-what, it’s fair to wonder why I’m burying the lead.  Given what’s written above, how could Keenan Allen possibly still be underrated?  Once again, let’s go back to the numbers.


Shown above is a table listing the YPT and PPT rookie numbers for the consensus “Big Six” wide receivers.  Also seen is how those numbers relate to what Allen was able to do in his freshman campaign (“Allen % Change” columns).  Frankly, the results are staggering.

With the exception of Julio Jones’ 10.0 YPT, Allen’s metrics bested every other listed number, often by approximately 20% or more.  In fact, Jones was truthfully the only one of the six who even came close to Allen’s production.  Simply put, by comparison the “Big Six” look awfully small.

Of course, as with anything in life and fantasy football, there needs to be a way to normalize the numbers at which we’re looking.  We’re familiar with the phrase “it’s all relative,” so how can we get these numbers on the same page?  In an attempt to do so, consider the following statistics:


Previously I had introduced an efficiency metric for quarterbacks called passing points-per-attempt, or PPA for short.  To derive these numbers, one simply needs to take a signal caller’s fantasy points (solely from passing) and divide them by the total number of pass attempts (QB PPA column).  This gives a true insight into a quarterback’s efficiency on a per-play basis, elaborating upon common quantitative convention.

An offshoot of this metric is the ability to derive a quarterback’s PPA solely when targeting just one player (PPA to WR column).  Those values are also listed in the table above, as well as how those numbers compare to each quarterback’s overall PPA.  Once again, Allen fits right in with fantasy’s elite.

Sure, Philip Rivers’ 0.65 PPA was easily the best value in the table, but Allen still managed to make him look 23.1% better.  While this wasn’t even close to the best value in the table (Jones, Green and Gordon all managed to make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what), it slotted in just below Dez Bryant’s 26.3% difference, and was actually above the numbers put forward by Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.  Allen certainly benefited from strong quarterback play, but it wasn’t the reason why he was so successful.

By now it’s clearly been shown that advanced metrics support Allen as having elite potential which rivals that of fantasy’s royalty.  Nevertheless, he’s not being valued as such, as evidenced by the recent February ADP data:


Yes, Allen is currently being selected as an early second-round player, as well as the ninth overall wide receiver.  This sees him fall only below the “Big Six” wideouts, as well as promising young players Alshon Jeffery (WR7) and Randall Cobb (WR8).  But is it possible we’re still missing the boat?

In a similar vein, Gordon’s strong 2012 rookie season turned him into a prime candidate for an off-season rise in value, but he generally topped out as a fifth or sixth round selection in 2013 dynasty startups.  Anyone who took the plunge likely received ridicule at the time, but was ultimately rewarded with one of this past season’s best fantasy performances.  Put succinctly, he proved he belonged amongst the top tier of dynasty assets.

Why can’t Keenan Allen be the next player to perform that feat?  Sure, his second round price tag is already suggestive of an upper-echelon assessment, but with another excellent performance in 2014 he could very well be the guy who turns the “Big Six” into the “Bigger Seven.”  Considering this very real possibility, I firmly believe there’s a strong argument to be made that Allen’s value hasn’t come close to topping out.

Convention is a tough thing to break, but subtle undercurrents of deviation are already suggestive of a larger changing of the tides.  Even Calvin Johnson, the near consensus “most valuable asset” over the past few years, has seen his worth drop a few spots to that of the WR3, behind Green and Gordon.  If an inhuman, teflon being like Megatron can lose value, isn’t anything possible?  Bob Dylan warned us that “the times, they are a changing” a long time ago, and I think we should heed his word – given Keenan Allen’s phenomenal rookie season, why not start by admitting we might still be underestimating the guy?

Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27

Eric Hardter

Eric Hardter

Senior Writer at Dynasty League Football
Eric is a Boston College chemistry grad school survivor with a minor in dynasty football, as well as the DLF Mailman and Podcast analyst.He prefers to utilize both statistics and sarcasm whenever possible, believes in process over results and thinks "Hot Takes" are the scourge of the fantasy landscape.

You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.
Eric Hardter

Latest posts by Eric Hardter (see all)



  1. Justin

    February 18, 2014 at 6:12 am


    • Steve Wyremski

      February 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

      Agreed! More to come on that 😉

      • Aaron

        February 18, 2014 at 8:02 pm

        I assume you have been asked to ‘splain yourself on blatantly disrespecting Keenan Allen in your rankings. I mean your WR rankings are so out of whack with the norm, I have been beyond curious to your methodology.

        I mean to have Percy Harvin at #8 and Allen at #30 seems crazy to me, and I might be willing to bet a vast majority of Percy owners would be willing to swap him straight up for Allen to be rid of the headache. I mean to put Allen in the same tier as Nicks, Stevie Johnson, and Reuben Randle seems very disrespectful. I mean Percy has never had a 1,000 yard receiving season and Keenan did it in his rookie year despite hardly being used until Week 4.

        • Kyle

          February 19, 2014 at 1:30 am

          Aaron started every sentence after the first one with “I mean”

          I mean, we get that you’re trying to be clear, it’s just not really necessary. 🙂

          • Aaron

            February 19, 2014 at 6:07 am

            Holy crap…that is awful English! Whoops!!

          • Cameron Connally

            February 19, 2014 at 11:31 pm


      • Aaron

        February 18, 2014 at 8:03 pm

        And for the record I am not an Allen owner.

      • kcDemonSlayer

        February 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        Steve! Maclin?!?! You have Maclin ranked higher than Keenan? Maclin!

        • Aaron

          February 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

          9 spots higher for the record. And he has Cruz at 18 spots higher than Allen. I really need to hear his methodology for his WR rankings because they are so out of whack. I won’t say they are wrong or bad b/c rankings are all just one person’s opinion, ours included, but they are peculiar at best. I can’t see anyone on DLF willing to move Keenan Allen for Reuben Randle and a late 1st Round Pick, yet he has then just one spot apart, which to me is in the same tier which is crazy.

  2. Sugbear65

    February 18, 2014 at 6:15 am

    I like Allen a lot, and this helps reinforce that for me, so for that I say nice jobs on the numbers. But to the overall theme of the article, I think it’s a little hard to call the #9 WR off the boards “underrated”. He is being taken as a WR1 already, and I can’t see him going above the big 6 for any reason, though as you say he may make it into that group. So sure you could take him ahead of Alshon or Cobb, but does 2 spots qualify as underrated?

    • Eric Hardter

      February 18, 2014 at 8:06 am

      It’s all relative. For example, last year there was a pretty clear “elite” tier of WR’s consisting of Calvin, Julio, AJG, Dez and DT. Fast forward to now, and Josh Gordon is a top-3 dynasty asset. In other words, unexpected changes to the fantasy hierarchy can happen.

      So while Allen is currently the WR9 and a second round pick, another strong season will potentially vault him into the early/middle of the first round. Given his rookie season relative to the “Big Six,” there’s a good possibility that can happen – in other words, it’s possible we’re still buying (relatively) low.

  3. Matt

    February 18, 2014 at 7:14 am

    I’m new to the dynasty and rookie draft landscape but it was interesting for me to notice that Allen seemed like the most stand out prospect very early in the process and he fell when measurables, ect came more into it.

    Maybe the lesson is to see more of the big picture and don’t let the details influence as much.

    • kcDemonSlayer

      February 18, 2014 at 7:32 am

      I got Keenan in the 2nd round of a rookie draft and I got Ellington in the 4th round of the rookie draft. Both players stock fell after NFL draft day because their situations did not seem as ideal as Tavon or Ball or Bell, but you could argue that they had better years than most anyone in the 1st round. Sometimes pre-combine/pre-draft evaluations are more telling….Lacy was the same way too. He was borderline #1 overall pick before he missed out on the combine and had a lackluster pro-day and Franklin also got drafted by GB. He sure looked like the #1 overall player in last years draft.

    • Johnny Bag of Donuts

      February 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

      Kid is a stone cold stud…..Reggie Wayne incarnated.

    • Eric Hardter

      February 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

      I think this is a good way to look at it. The combine is definitely a valuable tool, but it’s NOT a make or break determining factor.

  4. clarioncontrarion

    February 18, 2014 at 7:19 am

    he has done it one year , let’s see how defenses adjust and if rivers really was fixed by whiz or if it was just a quick patch job that starts leaking again. I traded for him and am pleased to say I hope he is underrated.

    • Eric Hardter

      February 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

      That’s the burning question, but it was nonetheless far above the expectations we have for any rookie WR.

  5. Matt

    February 18, 2014 at 7:35 am

    I think it might be a mistake to value him with the ‘elite’ wrs.

    Like him and his situation but it seemed every Chargers WR got hurt or stepped down last year.

    I mean on a purely individual talent level I don’t think he’s in that class.

    • Eric Hardter

      February 18, 2014 at 8:09 am

      To your second point, I can only agree to an extent – if he was the only guy there, he should’ve been receiving primary defensive focus as well. His efficiency should’ve also been subpar, as players who function as the focal point of the passing offense tend to get by more on volume than efficiency. Neither of those things happened with Allen.

      It’s possible he’s not as talented as the top guys, but we’re also not that far removed from a time where he was viewed as a lock to be the 1.01 in 2013 rookie drafts.

      • Matt

        February 18, 2014 at 8:41 am

        I really wonder how much of Allens efficiency was a result of the chargers offense in general.

        I’ve got to think guys like Royal and Woodhead were super efficient on a per target or touch basis as well.

        • Eric Hardter

          February 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

          Royal benefited from an non-repeatably high TD rate (one of every 5.9 receptions was a TD). In fact, 30.4% of his fantasy points came from TD’s, compared to his previous career average of 11.5%. His sample size was also only 64% of Allen’s. Throwing in the final fact that Royal was in his 6th year in the league, I think it’s effectively apples to oranges.

          With Woodhead, he caught an insane proportion of his passes, but his YPC was only 8.0 (YPT was 7.0). His usage was dramatically different than that of Allen (or any WR).

          Ultimately it boils down to a chicken/egg scenario. Rivers was downright bad in 2012, in my opinion largely corresponding to the loss of V-Jax. A new coaching staff surely helped, but I have to believe the reacquisition of a legit #1 guy (Allen) was a huge factor. Scheming helps, but I don’t think smoke and mirrors led to only the third 1,000-yard season from a rookie WR in the past decade (Green, Boldin).

          • kcDemonSlayer

            February 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

            I’m not even looking at stats, I just watch the guy play and he can consistently get open. He’s not tall but he’s money in the red zone because he is so good at separating. Dwon the stretch his targets fell dramatically to 2-5 targets a game. If he gets in the 10 target per game range he will put up numbers with the best of them. I just wonder how long Rivers can play and how a transition to a new QB will work.

  6. thestooge

    February 18, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I don’t think he actually put him in the elite category yet. Just showing us the statistics that could one day put him in that category. People very quickly crowned Gordon the next Elite WR after just one year of elite level play. That in my book is an overrated outlook on him. Players whos fantasy value stays consistantly above the rest year after year are elite wrs IMO. Keenan is definetly on the right track after his rookie performance. I hope he can put up like numbers next season!

  7. Julio

    February 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

    As a Keenan Allen owner, reading this article this morning was like wake up sex.

  8. Tommy

    February 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

    As an Allen owner (fell to me at 2.1 last year in a 12 teamer) I’d love to believe that he’s underrated but even if he is just properly rated as a top 10 WR I would be thrilled with that.

  9. Matt

    February 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I think it’s worth noting that he only caught 8 passes during the fantasy playoffs but 5 went for a td.

    • Eric Hardter

      February 18, 2014 at 10:11 am

      I did notice that as well, however Rivers only attempted 25.6 passes per game during that period, compared to 35.9 during the rest of the season. He bounced back nicely in the NFL playoffs, catching 26.7% of Rivers’ completed passes.

      • Matt

        February 18, 2014 at 10:28 am

        Excellent stats!

  10. Moishe

    February 18, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Wow. Just wow. I thought that, as a top-10 WR, he was OVERrated. He had one great rookie season, surprising as a big, slower WR. Kudos to him. So did Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston. Don’t get me wrong: after their rookie years, Boldin and Colston were great guys to own. But they never because one of those vaunted Big 6 or so. Low-end #1, high-end #2, yes. But, never difference-makers. I would much rather chance Jeffrey, Cobb, or stick with Jordy — guys who are or are much likelier to be difference-makers and who still have many years of production ahead of them.

    • bigefat

      February 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      I love Cobb, Jeffery and Nelson but all those guys are competing for targets in their offenses with either each other or Marshall! You never really know who will have “The Big Game” on those teams. Allen is alone on the top of his team as the top target and plays a lot of games the rest of his time in SD against Oakland, Denver and KC. Teams where they are likely to be whooping in Oakland’s case or in a shootout in the others, potentially loading up on points during his time in SD! I believe he could jump in the top seven. Look at what Rivers did with VJax, anything can happen!

      • JBFootball

        February 19, 2014 at 9:13 am

        Jeffery got 149 targets to Allen’s 104 and Jeffery didn’t start coming on until about the same time as Allen. I’ll take the sharing of 300+ targets between 2 studs than having the team’s only option at WR that will be seeing double coverage all the time.

        • Eric Hardter

          February 19, 2014 at 11:19 am

          You also have to remember that Allen is only 21 years old. Assuming he can play well for the next decade (not a stretch), I’m sure SD (or another team, perhaps) will undergo significant turnover in the passing offense. Ditto with Jeffery. I’m not worried about targets just yet.

  11. GoKeenanGo

    February 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Superb article – especially for us Keenan owners. This is a big part of why dynasty FF is so enjoyable for me personally. Getting Keenan at the 1.12 rookie draft, thinking I found a value, only to watch him blow up is great.

    It’s obvious that Keenan & Rivers have elite chemistry. Would Keenan have been as spectacularly productive with anybody else? Maybe… It almost doesn’t matter though, since they’ll both be back, presumably in a similar offense. Hopefully Whiz moving on doesn’t upset the apple cart too much. DX isn’t coming back to make a run at River’s WR#1 either. Blue skies ahead for Keenan owners…

  12. Scott Peak

    February 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Great article Eric. I love the stats you noted.

    I loved Allen and thought he was way undervalued before rookie drafts last year. I was on board with Lacy as well, and thought the toe injury was overblown. Both Allen and Lacy are examples of swimming against the media tide, and enjoying great value when general perception shoots them down draft boards. It’s also an example of fantasy owners not always following conventional media reports and going on instinct. I’m not a scout at all, but as a fan, I remember watching video of Allen and being very much impressed. His QB at Cal was terrible, and that might have ironically helped him with his catch radius and percentage. Allen reminded me of Dez Bryant, with a physical style that translated well to the NFL. I LOVED his fiery attitude. It seemed like Allen wanted to win every route, and wanted to catch everything thrown his way. I didn’t think the PCL was a big deal, and I remember tweeting about it. Running a 40 yard dash while rehabbing a PCL is not easy, and it’s not surprising he didn’t fare well at that time. I think it’s a perfect example of eschewing negative media reports and taking a player who showed WR1 talent pre-injury.

    Great stuff Eric!

  13. phantasy5

    February 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Nice work Eric! If Keenan was underrated before drafts at this time last year, then he shouldn’t be underrated now IMO. I had him targeted last year and he hung around for awhile until he went right before my pick! Not sure what round either? Anywho, I’m not ready to annoint me one of the “Big Six” just yet but if he keeps doing what we’ve all witnessed he’ll be well on his way. Just look at those #’s again, they’re pretty staggering don’t you think? I think Mike McCoy is one of the better coaches this league has seen in recent years as well as Rivers ability that everyone has seemed to have written off!
    Remeber when Gates was in his prime, Rivers was a viable QB1 for a long time and I think with Allen and what could be a breakout year for Ladarius Greene as well as Woodhead & Mathews the Chargers could be looking pretty well off on offense fro awhile.

  14. Cy23

    February 20, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I think Allen could back up the hype (with rookie numbers like that, he could really improve and be amazing!)

    or he could fall flat like Mike Williams did (with rookie numbers like that, there is room for regression).

    I don’t like comparing rookie stats between completely different situations. In the past few years, rookie receivers have become much better situated to perform immediately, in contrast to Calvin Johnson’s rookie season. Also, Allen had a very different situation in that he was basically thrust into the WR1 role with plenty of opportunity immediately.

    What I see is the fantasy equivalent of “grower vs. shower.” Allen performed extremely well last year, but he is a “shower” and his future growth will be limited. The other WR’s compared were “growers” that didn’t do as well their rookie seasons but had a lot of room for growth. They may have similar ceilings, but you can’t project Allen at the same rate.

    That said, I got burned thinking Mike Williams (TB) would become a WR1 after his rookie season, so I might be bitter. And if Allen produces even close to the guys he is compared to, he is worth a lot. I just fear he is more of a WR10-15 than a top 8 guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top