NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
As of now, it does not appear that there will be any Justin Blackmon, A.J. Green or Julio Jones in the 2013 NFL draft class. While all three of those receivers were college superstars who established themselves as top-10 draft picks, there is not even one sure-fire first-round draft pick yet among draft-eligible wide receivers.
There are a few players, however, getting hype as the potential No. 1 wide receiver in the draft class, and one of those players near the top of the list is California junior Keenan Allen. With that said, however, it may not even be safe to say that Allen should be a first-round draft pick, assuming he declares for this year’s draft.
I saw Allen play in person for the first time last Saturday versus Ohio State. I came away underwhelmed with my evaluation. While Allen led the Golden Bears with nine receptions for 80 yards, he did not make any big plays and failed to stand out as a top NFL prospect.
That said, there are many traits that stand out about Allen that show why he will be an early NFL draft selection, whether that be in 2013 or 2014.
At listed height and weight of 6’3’’ and 210 pounds, Allen has ideal size for the wide receiver position. He uses that size well: he is fantastic at making catches in traffic, can make catches with contact and continue to gain yards through and after contact, and he plays with physicality.
Yet while Allen is big, he is far from stiff. In fact, he challenges USC’s Robert Woods for being the top route-runner among top receiving prospects for the 2013 draft class. Allen consistently runs his routes precisely and has great quickness, and he uses those skills to not only get open, but to gain separation.
One of the most important factors in prospect evaluation is collegiate production and performance, and Allen grades out very well in that area. In 2011, Allen ranked ninth nationally in both receptions, with 98, and receiving yards, with 1,343.
Allen has an NFL body, runs routes that will make scouts salivate and has reliable hands. With that combination of traits, Allen has the skills to be a very good possession receiver at the next level.
To be a first-round pick, however, a wide receiver should have an additional element to his game: being a game-changer, a player who can get deep, make big plays and force a defense to develop their game plan around shutting him down. It remains unclear whether Allen is that type of player.
Allen is not going to be the next Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson or even Brandon Lloyd, because he does not have the blazing speed to be a consistent NFL deep threat. He does, however, do a great job of getting open to make plays that can move the chains, and has displayed his big-play ability during his two-plus seasons at California.
While Allen may not light up the 40-yard dash at the combine, he is a very good athlete in space. Allen is often able to make defenders miss by running subtle yet sharp cuts while running for yardage in space. Additionally, Allen has tremendous balance: he has displayed on multiple occasions his ability to hurdle defenders, and does a good job of working his way through missed tackles to keep himself upright on his feet and continue to gain yardage.
With his route-running ability, Allen will be able to make big plays by getting open, and his overall athleticism makes him a tough player to take down in space. Additionally, while Allen is unlikely to burn NFL cornerbacks with speed, he has tremendous body control and plays well through contact, meaning that with his length, he will be able to challenging catches downfield even in one-on-one coverage, catches that many receivers are unable to make.
Bringing this back to the original question, the jury should still be out, in my opinion, on whether Allen is a first-round pick.
While he is a great athlete for his size, and his size combined with his route-running ability could create mismatches with NFL defenders, he is still unlikely to be a big-play threat at the next level. And while his sophomore-year production was fantastic, he needs to follow up with a strong junior season, in which he is off to a solid and consistent start, but has not yet had a breakout game.
Allen made some plays against Ohio State, but was still kept relatively in check, as the Buckeyes’ athletic cornerbacks were able to keep him from making any big plays, which will most likely be a reality more often than not at the next level.
Currently, Allen ranks as my No. 4 wide receiver in the 2013 draft class, behind three other juniors, and as a fringe first-round draft pick. He ranks behind USC’s Robert Woods, who is the most complete wideout in the draft class, along with Tennessee’s Justin Hunter and Washington State’s Marquess Wilson, who are the best deep threat wideouts in the class with tremendous combinations of size, acceleration, speed and leaping ability.
Allen has a big chance, however, to make a big jump up the draft board again this Saturday, when he will take on USC. Last year, Allen gashed the Trojans for 160 yards on 13 receptions, and if he can duplicate this performance and add in some big plays, he could make a big jump up the draft board, and start to solidify himself as a first-round pick.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who has the Pac-12 Network (I am not yet one of them, unfortunately), you can check out Allen’s game versus USC at 6 p.m. Saturday.