After compiling a 28-7 record in the month of December in his seven years as a starter, it wasn't surprising to see Philip Rivers rise to the challenge on Thursday Night Football. Their statement win over the Denver Broncos kept the 7-7 Chargers supermodel-thin path to the playoffs viable and introduced the national audience to San Diego’s rookie wideout. San Diego's chances of clinching a Wild Card stood at 3.2 percent on Thursday afternoon, which was actually down from 3.7 percent before their win on Sunday. If the Chargers mount a playoff surge, it will be almost as inexplicable as the rise of Keenan Allen and just as difficult to explain.
Like Beyoncé’s secret album drop or SNL’s covert black female comic auditions, Allen seems to have appeared out of the blue, stepped onto the NFL hot stove as San Diego’s No. 1 receiver and hasn’t let anyone see him sweat.
The 2010 ESPN 150 rankings are a glimpse into the pasts of college football’s current stars and a few elite members of this season’s blossoming crop of NFL rookies. The majority left behind are currently college seniors or redshirt juniors.
The creamof the crop are NFL stars such as Alec Ogletree(No.7), Matt Elam (No. 9), 49ers Roboknee RB (No. 19) Marcus Lattimore, Vikings defensive tackle (No. 25) Sharrif Floyd, (No. 7) Robert Woods, Titans wide out (No. 26) Justin Hunter, the Cardinals’ other rookie safety (No. 21) Tony Jefferson and Jets cornerback (No. 16) Dee Milliner before he was getting trampled on by NFL receivers.
The 33rd ranked recruit on that list, the only one without a profile photo, was a versatile two-way player named Keenan Allen.
Talent connoisseur Nick Saban sought to recruit him as a wide receiver to Alabama. However, Allen and his half-brother Zach Maynard were a package deal. Understandably ‘Bama bowed out and let Allen walk, then fly cross-country to their new oasis on the West Coast at California (Berkeley).
Maynard became the starter at quarterback and Allen became his favorite target. It would sound like nepotism if Allen weren’t always putting his fellow defensive backs to shame.
As a 19-year-old, Allen already had he blueprint of his path to the league laid out. Once Maynard’s eligibility expired, Allen made no attempts to hide his intentions to jet after his junior season.
"Just talking to my parents, if I'm projected first round, I got to take that," Allen chirped to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. "Anything after the first round, I'll probably stay."
Although, not as dangerous after the catch, Allen was considered a superior receiver to former Cal receiver and current NFL Pro Bowler Desean Jackson at the same stage in their career. In two-and-a-half seasons, Allen’s 205 career receptions, coming on the receiving end of a two-star transfer quarterback with accuracy issues and no pro future, established a new school record.
Allen also developed an obsession with hurdling defenders.
In the offseason, SBNation’s Chargers blog Bolts from the Blue compared Allen’s collegiate career to receivers who matched his profile.
- A.J. Green – 6'4" 207 lbs., 261 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Hakeem Nicks – 6'1" 208 lbs., 301 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Julio Jones – 6'3" 220 lbs., 304 Targets, 3 Years at School
- Keenan Allen – 6'2" 206 lbs., 315 Targets, 3 Years at School
Allen sinking to the third round of the 2013 was as much of a fluke as Cleveland digging up Josh Gordon in the third round of the supplemental draft. One year after he went hopscotching over a Utah defender, he suffered a Grade 2 tear to the PCL in his left knee, entered the draft, then ran a 4.77 at his Pro Day.
By June, Allen was starving for his chance to lineup alongside the first-team offense and was saying it with his chest.
"I want to be a starter," the anxious rookie affirmed to Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego. "I don't want to watch. I want to be part of the moment. I don't want to watch it."
Season-ending injuries to Danario Alexnder and Malcolm Floyd, in addition to Vincent Brown's nagging hamstring injury pushed Allen to the forefront
Six months later, Allen was on the receiving end of Rivers’ laser throws defenders once again, back to his old habit of hopping over defenders and sparking a Week 15 upset.
Allen reeled in just two receptions for 29 yards against Denver, but both catches landed him in the end zone for his six and seventh touchdowns of the season.
His career has gone unnoticed beneath the East Coast bias radar, but with 169 yards over the final two weeks, Allen’s name will be tossed into a pantheon of rookie receivers who have breached 1,100 yards.
Former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy deserves props. Danny Woodhead has been an adaptable Charger to plug in the slot or in the backfield and Antonio Gates’ foot doesn’t have sterilized surgeon’s scalpels sticking into it anymore, however, the Philip Rivers to Keenan Allen's connection is spearheading San Diego's improbable charge. Time to take notice.