The resurgence of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers this season may be one of the best comeback stories of the year.
After turning the ball over 55 times the past two seasons, and throwing just 53 touchdowns, Rivers has drastically improved his numbers and found his favorite target this year in the most unlikely of places.
Before the year began, it was thought that Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown or Malcom Floyd would be Rivers' top targets at receiver this season.
But it's been the Chargers' third-round pick out of California, Keenan Allen, who has stolen that spotlight.
Alexander and Floyd were lost for the season with injuries, while Brown hasn't been able to make a significant impact in Mike McCoy's offense.
In comes Allen, who has not only played well enough to help Rivers return to the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, he's set himself up as the front-runner for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
History of the award
Since 1967, there have only been seven receivers that have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
|Offensive Rookie of the Year Winners since 1967 - Receivers|
|2009||Percy Harvin||Minnesota Vikings|
|2003||Anquan Boldin||Arizona Cardinals|
|1998||Randy Moss||Minnesota Vikings|
|1992||Carl Pickens||Cincinnati Bengals|
|1985||Eddie Brown||Cincinnati Bengals|
|1984||Louis Lipps||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|1976||Sammy White||Minnesota Vikings|
The award has gone to a running back 30 times in that same time period, and it's gone to a quarterback four of the last five years.
|Last five Offensive Rookie of the Year Winners|
|2012||Robert Griffin III||Washington Redskins||Quarterback|
|2011||Cam Newton||Carolina Panthers||Quarterback|
|2010||Sam Bradford||St. Louis Rams||Quarterback|
|2009||Percy Harvin||Minnesota Vikings||Wide Receiver|
|2008||Matt Ryan||Atlanta Falcons||Quarterback|
Because there is no quarterback this year worthy of the award, voters are going to have to look elsewhere to make their decision.
They won't have to look further than Allen, who's breaking Chargers receiving records en route to a special rookie season.
Coach Mike McCoy likes what he sees so far from Allen, via Michael Gehlken of UT San Diego.
Keenan has gotten better every week. And we've talked about it every week with him about continuing to build and taking it one day at a time. The kid's learning to be a pro, and he'll tell you that he has a long way to go.
If Allen still has a ways to go, as McCoy says, based on his production so far this season, that's bad news for the rest of the AFC West. They're going to have to deal with him for the next several years.
Allen set the franchise record for receptions in a season by a rookie with 61, breaking the previous mark of 59 by LaDainian Tomlinson.
He's also just 101 yards shy of the all-time rookie receiving yards record with three games left to play. The record is currently held by John Jefferson, who picked up 1,002 yards in his rookie season back in 1978.
|Allen's current stats and projection for 2013 season|
In his 12 games this season, Allen's gone for more than 100 yards receiving five times. Compared to other rookie receivers, Allen is showing why he was one of the biggest steals in the draft.
|Comparing rookie wide receivers taken before Allen in draft|
|8||Tavon Austin||St. Louis Rams||40||69||418||4|
|27||DeAndre Hopkins||Houston Texans||44||78||707||2|
|29||Cordarrelle Patterson||Minnesota Vikings||35||60||395||2|
|34||Justin Hunter||Tennessee Titans||18||38||354||4|
|41||Robert Woods||Buffalo Bills||31||69||408||2|
|59||Aaron Dobson||New England Patriots||35||67||492||4|
|74||Terrance Williams||Dallas Cowboys||35||61||567||5|
|76||Keenan Allen||San Diego Chargers||61||85||902||5|
It's still way too early to make any definitive claims based on how these players' rookie seasons have gone, but the immediate return on investment looks pretty good for the Chargers.
Race for the OROY
Lacy has put together a fantastic season thus far for the Packers. He's carried the ball 227 times for 887 yards and seven touchdowns.
Coming into the season, everyone knew Lacy was going to be a big part of the Packers offense. The second-round pick from Alabama was going to complement Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' pass-happy offense with a physical running game.
But in the five games since Rodgers' injury, Lacy hasn't had the same impact. And voters and fans remember more about how you finish the season than how you start.
Lacy has carried the ball 93 times for 291 yards in the last five games, for an average of just 3.1 yards per carry.
Obviously, it makes a huge impact that Rodgers isn't out there and defenses can key on stopping Lacy and the Packers running game. But we're talking about the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award—there shouldn't be any disclaimers in how you state your case for that player.
Lacy is a fantastic player and will be with the Packers for a long time, but this award belongs to Allen.
He's finishing strong and didn't come into the season as a key part of the Chargers offense. Rather, he was thrust into the position and has thrived. That whole "didn't see it coming" aspect will go a long way in helping him win this award because it grabs people's attention.
Whether it's right or wrong is up for debate, but people like big, flashy plays to get them excited, and that's what people remember when they're voting.
Lacy is averaging under four yards per carry right now, but also has just two runs this season over 20 yards. He's not an explosive threat, which was also known before he stepped on the field for the Packers.
But on the other side, Allen has 14 receptions for at least 20 yards. Here's a look at one of those big plays and how it developed.
This play against the New York Giants displays everything you need to know about Keenan Allen.
The Chargers face a 3rd-and-3 at the Giants 43-yard line.
Allen is in the slot with cornerback Terrell Thomas lined up directly across from him in press coverage. Allen is going to run a go route and try to get over the top of the defense.
The Giants safety is going to crash down on tight end Antonio Gates, who's lined up off the right tackle in a two-point stance.
The Giants gambled that Rivers was going to throw short to pick up the first down, or they trusted their defensive backs not to get beat. Either way, they were wrong.
As soon as Rivers drops back, he can see the safety crashing down on Gates coming across the middle, which leaves no help over the top of Thomas on Allen.
Allen just has to beat his man down the field on a perfect throw from Rivers.
Not only does Allen create the necessary separation, he makes an unbelievably athletic play to dive into the end zone.
Thomas ran Allen up the sideline and attempted to shove him out of bounds, but Allen had enough body control to tiptoe along the sidelines and dive for the pylon.
This is just one example of the kinds of plays Allen has been making for the Chargers this season.
These kinds of spectacular plays create buzz. They are shown on highlight reels on every television station across the country. They're talked about on social media and make good water cooler conversation at work.
It's that buzz that helps lead to awards like the Offensive Rookie of the Year. When you combine that with his overall numbers and the lack of other viable candidates (particularly, a front-running quarterback), Keenan Allen has a great chance to earn the top honor.
He's peaking at the right time, and it's fair to say he's the front-runner with three games left to play.