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Rewind: The Dynasty-Fantasy Value of Keenan Allen in 2016

January 23, 2018 11:47 PM
April 11, 2016 7:34 PM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

You ask me, “So what do you think about Keenan Allen?

What are you really asking me?

I know you’re asking me for Dynasty-Fantasy football purposes, but what are you really asking?

Because depending upon what you’re really asking me, for Dynasty analysis purposes, I might have two different answers.

So what do I think about Keenan Allen?

I know why you’re asking. 15 catches (17 targets) on opening day against Detroit in 2015. 12 catches a couple of weeks later…on 18 targets versus Minnesota. Allen was injured after eight games, and if you took his 2015 numbers and doubled them for a full season he was on a pace for 134 catches for 1,450 yards and eight TDs. Who doesn’t want in on that in Dynasty leagues?

Are you asking me if this is for real? Are you wondering if Keenan Allen good for 7–10+ catches in every game?

How real do you want to get? Do you mean is he REALLY going to see those heavy target levels again in 2016 and have a phenomenal fantasy season? Or do you mean is Keenan Allen REALLY one of the best wide receivers in all the football, and a legit 7–10+ catch per game talent?

I would answer, “Maybe“…on Allen accomplishing this again in 2016.

I answer, “No“…he’s not one of the best wide receivers in football. He’s not a legit 7–10+ catch per game talent. He can get there with heavy targeting. He is not a force that demands the attention he’s getting.

I watched every 2015 throw from Philip Rivers to Keenan Allen in the past 24 hours, and most every Chargers passing game snap when Allen wasn’t the target. I have to tell you, taking this journey was revelatory. God opened my eyes to several things involving the Chargers that now make a ton of sense. Let me lay out the big picture, and then I’ll trickle down the details from there.

The item you must know about the Chargers, which is going to help you set the table for every thought you should ever have about a Chargers offensive weapon for Fantasy Football for the next 1–3 years is – Philip Rivers is a very weird quarterback. It’s like he has some form of OCD. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s brilliance or idiocy. Philip Rivers, maybe more than any quarterback I have ever seen, is a creature of habit.

Philip Rivers doesn’t expand his game. He doesn’t ‘imagine the possibilities’. He’s going to do what he wants to do, what he’s overly comfortable with. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ate the same exact breakfast every day of his life. He’s like Rain Man in a powder blue football uniform.

Philip Rivers establishes a relationship with a player, a relationship within the context of on the field of play, and he sticks with it no matter what…even to his own/the team’s detriment. Is Danny Woodhead the best receiving running back in the NFL? In terms of hands, or skills after the catch, is he like off the charts? No, he is not. Is current day Antonio Gates the best receiving tight end in the NFL, in terms of hands and what he can do after the catch? No, he is not. He has slowed down greatly the past couple of years. He is still quality, but he’s not off the charts. I would argue he wasn’t even the best tight end weapon on his team the past two years – Ladarius Green was.

Is Keenan Allen the best wide receiver talent you’ve ever seen? Like the greatest hands, most amazing athlete, and the best route runner…and a guy who just is going to ‘will’ his way to 130+ catches in a season? No, he is not.

What do Keenan AllenDanny Woodhead, and Antonio Gates have in common? When they were healthy, they were all on pace to lead (or be close) their position in catches. They are also the three guys whom Philip Rivers ‘has for breakfast every morning of every day of his life‘. They are the guys he’s going to use/go to in almost every circumstance.

Woodhead-Allen-Gates were 1-2-3 on the Chargers with the most targets in 2015. Woodhead lead all with 106 targets. Allen had 89 targets in literally a half a season. Gates had 85 targets despite missing the first four games, and then hobbled in many others.

This is probably why we were all so frustrated with Ladarius Green not getting a sustained chance. He wasn’t in Rivers’ circle…even if it would have benefitted the team and offense to do work Ladarius, Rivers just didn’t have the relationship. So it was like Green didn’t even exist, in a sense.

Just think about Danny Woodhead for a minute. The guy is catching 5–10 passes out of the backfield in games last year (did so in 9 of 16 games), and he barely played half the offensive snaps in most games. How the hell is Danny Woodhead the greatest RB receiver in all of the league? You’d see it over and over again where Rivers would just constantly dump the ball to Woodhead. You wonder why the other team doesn’t try to stop that. After watching the tape – I don’t think opponents care. What do they care if Danny Woodhead catches 8 passes for 50 yards in a game, especially when much of it happens on second or third and long (falling short of a first down)…or it happens when the Chargers have a big deficit? Other teams are fine with Rivers constantly dumping the ball off. Obviously, they are – just look at the Chargers’ record for the last half a decade, and last season. The Chargers are 37–43 the past five seasons.

Philip Rivers just dumps the ball to Danny Woodhead as a trusted safety valve. It’s always there, almost always available…and not making the team ‘a winner’. Woodhead has decent, not special hands. He’s not a master after the catch. But Rivers can rely upon him, and knows where he’s going to be at all times. I believe it’s more important to Philip Rivers to complete a pass and avoid an interception than it is for him to expand the offense or make something happen. Danny Woodhead is a great example of that because an offense should not be based around Danny Woodhead in the passing game. Nothing against Woodhead, but there are a million better ways to go about working targets as a primary in the pass game.

Keenan Allen is just the wide receiver version of Danny Woodhead. I watched the tape. The other teams don’t really care about Keenan Allen either. They are not throwing the kitchen sink at him in coverage. Hell, they aren’t even putting their best cornerback on Keenan Allen in a lot of cases. Keenan Allen is Philip Rivers’ wide receiver version of Danny Woodhead – the guy he is most comfortable dumping the ball to. I don’t know how many times I saw it happen on tape, but I know I got sick of it pretty quickly. Keenan Allen would come off the line of scrimmage like anyone of a billion other wide receivers, then he would dart out a few yards and then slice across the middle, and Rivers would just soft toss it to him for a nice 3-4-5-yard completion. It wasn’t complicated, and it wasn’t special, but it was right in front of Rivers, and he could get rid of it quickly…most of it with the cover corner way off the line of scrimmage.

It wasn’t just a series of short, crosser passes either. There’s another level of comfort zone between Rivers and Allen. Much of the shorter-medium work to Keenan Allen, and by ‘much’ I mean like almost all of it, is a timing play. Allen runs a 5–10+ yard route, and Rivers is throwing the ball before Allen has stopped and turned or made his cut. I know there are a lot of timing plays in NFL passing games, but it is almost the sole basis of the relationship between Rivers and Allen when they throw the ball downfield a little. The reason they have to execute/rely upon this exquisite timing play, in my opinion, is because on his own, Keenan Allen does not get enough separation from cornerbacks. It’s a trickeration play. On one level, I hate it because it’s not a great quarterback and a great wide receiver making great plays all over the field. On the other hand, it may be brilliant because it’s virtually unstoppable. Allen runs seven yards downfield, stops quickly and turns around, and the ball is almost to him. What’s a DB to do? Credit to Rivers that he identifies the opening, and that he and Allen can execute the play. It’s a great game of pitch and catch. It’s what Philip Rivers is comfortable with. When you consider the Chargers were down often in games last season, then it’s even better because defenses are playing softer coverage. It’s easier to play pitch and catch, or just dump 3-yard crossing patterns to Keenan Allen on 3rd & 10, when the coverage is 5–10 yards off the line of scrimmage playing in a prevent.

Philip Rivers has made a living doing a version of this with Antonio Gates as well. Rivers has his pass game flow down with Gates, Woodhead, and Keenan Allen.

So we assume that this targeting level going to keep up with Keenan Allen in 2016? My first reaction is ‘Yes’. Because I know Philip Rivers is not going to make an adjustment off of something that’s working. He’s not going to make someone else his trusted option (Ladarius Green, Melvin Gordon, Travis Benjamin). However, earlier I said the answer to whether this would happen again in 2016 was “Maybe.” The reason I’m hedging is that while I know that given the proper circumstances Rivers will target Allen 15+ times per game – I know it beyond a shadow of a doubt after watching the 2015 activity – but I also see a problem heading into 2016, having nothing to do with his injury. Here’s why…

The Woodhead dump passes are almost impossible to stop. Antonio Gates is an experienced, massive tight end who knows how to position his body to get his catches against linebackers, etc. However, Keenan Allen can be stopped…or at least slowed to reasonable numbers. How so? By better corner coverage, and tougher coverage in general by the opponents.

As I watched all eight of Keenan Allen’s games last year, I was noting the cornerback who was covering Allen. When I began this study, I wondered how in the world is this guy getting off with this many catches without anyone trying to stop him? The other teams aren’t trying to stop him, not really.

Here are the cornerbacks that opponents put on Keenan Allen in 2015:

Week 1 vs. DET: Rashean Mathis. Allen caught 15 passes, and Mathis was a step behind, way off in coverage all day. Mathis wasn’t the Lions’ best corner. Darius Slay is a burgeoning shutdown corner…and he never really switched to Allen in the midst of 17 targets going that way.

Week 2 vs. CIN: Adam Jones. One of the best CBs Allen faced in 2015, if not the best…which foretells part of the Allen mystique – he faced junky corners on a fortuitous 2015 schedule. He had 2 catches for 16 yards here.

*Please note Denver and Kansas City had great pass defenses in 2015. They are both in the Chargers’ division, and thus collectively play San Diego four times per season. How many times did Allen face those two teams in 2015? Answer: none. Allen left 2015 after eight games, and the Broncos and Chiefs weren’t on the schedule until after that. Very fortuitous.

In 2014, facing DEN 2x-NE-ARI-SEA-BUF (Gilmore), Allen averaged 4.3 catches, 33.8 yards, and 0.16 TDs…4.4 FF PPG (8.7 PPR). The Patriots held Allen to 2 catches for 3 yards. In his second Broncos matchup in 2014, Allen caught 3 passes on 8 targets for 18 yards. I think he was a little banged up facing the Pats and the Broncos to be fair.

Week 3 vs. MIN: mostly against Xavier Rhodes, and Allen caught 12 passes for 133 yards and 2 TDs.

Week 4 vs. CLE: Pierre Desir was making his debut as a starter for injured Joe Haden…4 catches for 72 yards and 1 TD for Allen.

Week 5 vs. PIT: Ross Cockrell spent a lot of time on Allen…6 catches for 50 yards.

Week 6 vs. GB: Sam Shields had him mostly, and Rivers threw 65 times in a bizarre game. This to me is Philip Rivers – 65 passes, 503 yards…only 20 points scored. Teams just let him dump passes all day when they have the lead. Allen caught 15 passes for 157 yards.

Week 7 vs. OAK: T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden covered Allen…9 catches for 89 yards.

Week 8 vs. BAL: Jimmy Smith and Kyle Arrington…5 catches for 35 yards and a TD, and Allen was injured…out the rest of 2015.

Look back at those CB names…it’s a joke. Rivers is going to exploit soft coverage. I can tell you from firsthand experience watching it all in a row…teams could not have cared less about what Allen was doing. He lined up all over the field, and teams rarely made an adjustment. He’d see target after target, and nothing would change by the defense.

So will this happen again in 2016? Will Allen see huge targets, and thus huge stats in 2016? Maybe. It will for sure happen in games where he has lesser coverage, and the Chargers are losing. However, since Allen will have DEN-KC-OAK on the schedule six times in 2016, if he plays all 16 games…he’s getting top coverage from top defenses in all six matchups. Oakland is the most improved defensive personnel unit in football this offseason.

Joe Haden, Josh Norman, and Desmond Trufant also lurk on the 2016 schedule. The schedule will not be as easy as it was in half of a 2015 campaign.

Keenan Allen will get his catches, but given that Philip Rivers is facing some serious duress from the 2016 schedule…I don’t know that Allen will pop for TDs to go along with the exaggerated targeting.

Another thing to consider about 2016+…

Philip Rivers is hurdling towards Peyton Manningville circa-2015. Rivers will be 35 years old during the 2016 season. There is the lost velocity, the difficult division, the patchy O-Line. How much time does Rivers have left in the NFL where he can help ‘make’ a wide receiver?

After watching Allen in these eight games in 2015, I didn’t see a major talent at wide receiver. I saw a solid receiver getting a ton of targets because he was their best WR, and he has the reps down with Rivers. Whenever there is no Rivers, then Allen is going fade off the top-tier landscape in a hurry. Other top WRs can survive or thrive with a change at QB…but Allen is not one of them. He’s not a physical force – he’s not big, strong, or fast. He is smart with great hands. He’s not a #1 WR talent, but he is on San Diego…because Rivers makes it so. Allen will struggle with a change at QB, or when Rivers starts really dropping off.

On top of everything relying upon Rivers to ‘feed’ Keenan Allen in excess…Allen is a frail, injury-prone wide receiver. He was hurt his last year at Cal. He almost quit football his rookie year with San Diego because of his early struggles. He missed two critical games at the end of the 2014 season, and then sustained a major hip injury to miss half of 2015. You’re expecting this thin-framed, frail wide receiver to walk back into 2016 coming off a hip surgery, and everything to be cool? I wouldn’t.

Will Keenan Allen get 200 targets and make 150 catches in 2016? Perhaps. All I can tell you is – these inflated numbers are happening due to favorable circumstances for Allen, and Dynasty owners are living on borrowed time with him. Maybe he has one or two great Fantasy Football seasons ahead.

Maybe, it’s already over…we just don’t know it yet.

I’m a seller, not a buyer, on Keenan Allen. I’ll take a shot on acquiring him with a WR3 trade valuation if someone is spooked by his injury, and trying to dump him. I’ll try to get him cheap, and flip him when the value jumps again. I’m not going to invest in him with a WR2+ trade valuation, secretly hoping I am snagging a WR1 for PPR in 2016. He might be a PPR WR1 for a bit in 2016…but the clock is ticking.


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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>