Leading up to the 2013 NFL draft, Keenan Allen was projected by some scouts as a first-round prospect, but others couldn't look past a major knee injury that required something most teams don't have—time.
The San Diego Chargers took a chance on the receiver out of Cal in the third round, and judging from the way he's played thus far, Allen has all the makings of this year's biggest steal from the draft.
In San Diego's upset of the 4-1 Indianapolis Colts, Allen had his breakout performance with nine catches for 107 yards and the game's only touchdown. The rookie led the team with 12 targets and averaged close to 12 yards a catch against a Colts defense that ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game (201.4).
Allen's production doesn't stop there as he gained over 100 yards receiving and caught a touchdown the week prior in a loss to the Oakland Raiders. Against the Dallas Cowboys, Allen caught five balls for 80 yards.
For an offensive unit that is down two of its best receivers from a year ago in Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, Allen has stepped up in recent weeks to make his case as the legitimate No. 1 receiver for Philip Rivers.
When the season got underway last September against the Houston Texans, Eddie Royal hooked up with Rivers for three touchdowns in a Monday night loss, and it was assumed that the former Denver Bronco had somehow resurrected his career after a subpar year with San Diego in 2012. That hasn't been the case lately for Royal, who has eight receptions in the past four games.
Vincent Brown, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, was also a worthy candidate for consideration of San Diego's need for a No. 1 receiver, but Allen has met him stride for stride and may have won the job judging how well he played against the Colts.
At 6'2", Allen doesn't fit the exact mold of what Rivers had in past receivers such as Floyd and Vincent Jackson (both 6'5"), but he plays bigger than he is. In Mike McCoy's offense, Allen hasn't needed to play the role of an imposing receiver capable of winning the jump ball, but rather as a go-to possession receiver for Rivers.
Before Monday night's game against Indianapolis, Allen had 11 receiving first downs for the Chargers, continuing to be a reliable target on offense when San Diego needed a pivotal first down.
Some of the slack Allen took in college stemmed from the play of his quarterback at Cal, who just happens to be his half brother. Zach Maynard's numbers in 2012 weren't so hot, and Allen's play regressed as a result even before his injury.
Still, Allen's talent could not be overlooked considering what he did in college as a whole. On Day 2 of the draft, ESPN's Bill Polian (a former NFL executive) compared Allen to Reggie Wayne, which is high praise coming from a wise football mind.
Looking at how well the rookie has played at the pro level, a lot of his success has to be credited to the play of his quarterback, who has not only turned Allen into a star, but has also rejuvenated his own career.
Rivers had been severely criticized for his mistakes the past two seasons, and his own career was on the line with a new coaching staff and GM taking over. Fortunately for him, Rivers has come through for the Chargers on offense, and his young group of receivers is aiding his comeback.
For a guy who was still recovering in August from lingering effects of that 2012 injury, what Allen's done on the field in his first year is something else. Look for him to only get better as he continues to get targets as the season wears on.