University of California wide receiver Keenan Allen is unlikely to receive the hype and attention that others at his position will during the 2013 NFL draft because of the lack of outstanding physical traits.
He doesn't have the towering height or blazing speed that usually receives fanfare come draft time, but he shouldn't be knocked simply because of that. He possesses many important traits, such as yards after the catch ability and quick feet, which should be recognized because they could take him a long way, perhaps even longer than those favored over him, in the NFL.
I always like to start off any evaluation with a look to the scheme. Where has the receiver aligned on the formation, and what routes is he being asked to run?
In the case of Allen, he's lined up in the boundary and the slot. This is an immediate sign of his versatility and likelihood of understanding defensive coverages (to a degree), which is very important for a receiver.
From these alignments, he's ran a lot of short routes, such as stick, shallow cross and hitch, as well as vertical routes along the likes of deep crossing routes, bends and skinny posts. These are all routes that will be asked of him in the NFL.
Although he has been asked to run several types of routes, Allen is still rough around the edges in this department. He doesn't always execute routes with precision, sometimes tipping off his break point and running with high pad level.
Both of the above are going to be important to clean up at the next level or Allen will struggle immensely.
Tipping the breaking point of a route is one of the worst things a receiver can do as it gives the cornerback an early advantage. Allen also tends to tip off his routes with his eyes or by drifting in the direction he will be opening up to. Here's an example against the USC Trojans from earlier this season.
Allen was lined up wide against cornerback Torin Harris and was going to be running a short, inside breaking route. He started the route off properly by focusing his eyes on the cornerback as he ran forward. But as he gained depth, he peeked to the middle of the field, tipping off his route, and then broke off his route to the inside.
Allen recorded a reception for the first down on this play because it was deep zone coverage, which means the cornerback played with a cushion. However, if it was man coverage, this could have potentially been a turnover because of his revealing eyes. There are many cornerbacks, such as the Eagles' Nnamdi Asomugha and Atlanta's Asante Samuel, that have made a living off of picking up tendencies.
Allen also tends to run with his pads skyward, suggesting issues with pad level. I would like to see him bring them down as he is running down the field, keeping his pads over his feet.
Separation is tough for every wide receiver, but Allen does a good job of it. He runs many short routes, which sometimes makes it tough to judge, but overall he has done well of distancing himself from defensive backs at the top of his route.
Allen does a good job of separating because of his quick feet. He uses short, choppy steps to separate from defensive backs on short routes and also has the acceleration to win vertically. Against USC, he ran a jerk route from the slot that illustrated his quick feet.
After releasing to the inside of the defense, he took a step back to the outside and in front of the cornerback. He squared his shoulders and closed the gap between himself and the defender, which is key because it forces the defensive back to take wasted steps.
Once the gap was closed, he abruptly planted his right foot into the ground and drove back toward the middle of the field, creating separation and getting open for the quarterback.
His quick feet are very important and are often on display, enabling him to get open versus tight coverage. Although he is often open, he does not catch enough passes because quarterback Zach Maynard has failed to deliver the ball.
The judging of quality hands is one that's long been interesting to me. If a receiver bobbles the football, how good are his hands?
Allen has a tendency to bobble passes but overall, he's shown good hands that have enabled him to haul in difficult passes. What's impressive about his catching is that he mostly catches away from the body opposed to trapping the ball as it comes in, as many receivers do. He has the ability to adjust to the ball and bring it in, registering diving catches on numerous occasions as well as high-pointing the football.
Yards After Catch
One of the most important aspects of playing wide receiver in today's NFL is picking up yards after the catch. Coaches are preaching it, tailoring their offense to getting it and wide receivers simply have to get it. Fortunately, Keenan Allen does.
Allen is impressive after the catch, showing the ability to pick up yards quickly with quality acceleration and quick feet. He sometimes looks like a running back with the ball in his hand, showing patience and vision as a runner as seen on the first play in the video to the right.
However, he doesn't always show great balance and is sometimes easily taken down by his ankles. I'd like to see him improve in both of these areas, which may come after cleaning up his pad level.
The 2013 wide receiver draft class is wide open, with many having differing opinions on who the best player at the position is. Keenan Allen is surely to be in the discussion for the top spot.
He possesses solid build, quick feet, good hands and yards after the catch ability. These are all traits that are very important to a successful receiver, which Allen can become if he cleans up certain areas of his game. Although he is not a dynamic No. 1 receiver, he is likely to be a late first- or early second-round pick and has the ability to become one of the best receivers from the class.