The San Diego Chargers' first-year general manager, Tom Telesco, was hired in January after 15 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts organization. Last April, in his first draft at the helm, Telesco selected OT D.J. Fluker out of Alabama in the first round (11th overall), Notre Dame ILB Manti Te'o in the second (38th overall) before picking Cal WR Keenan Allen in the third round (76th overall).
Aside from missing the Tennessee game due to a concussion in Week 3, Fluker has started in 13 games at the right tackle position and has shown improvement as the season has progressed. A foot injury forced Te'o to miss most of the preseason and the first three games of the regular season. However, Te'o has started all 11 games since his return and has been a solid contributor, currently ranking fifth on the team in total tackles with 47.
While Fluker and Te'o have shown a lot of promise early, Allen has stolen the show and is off to a great start to his career. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound receiver has started in 12 of the 13 games he's appeared it and currently leads all rookies in receptions (63), receiving yards (931) and receiving touchdowns (7). In addition, he has manufactured big plays as he leads all rookie receivers with 14 catches of over 20 yards.
Coming out of California, Allen, on tape, flashed first-round tools. He was a big receiver who showed a natural feel for routes in terms of savvy. Allen didn't have upper-echelon speed but did a nice job of working defenders within his stem by using tempo and gaining leverage to create separation. Where he was at his best, though, was when the ball was in the air. Allen showed above-average body control and strong hands to adjust to throw outside of his frame. In addition, he made a quick transition up the field after the catch and showed underrated elusiveness as a runner.
Unfortunately, Allen's last season at Cal did not end on a high note. He suffered a slightly torn PCL in his right knee causing him to miss the final three games of the season. The injury lingered on into the draft process. In fact, Allen was unable to work out for scouts until the beginning of April when he turned in an underwhelming 40-yard dash time in the high 4.6 range.
This forced Allen to fall in the draft where he remained on the board until the Chargers scooped him up at the beginning of the third round. We at Scouts Inc. had Allen as fourth overall receiver in our final rankings with a high second-round grade and felt that Telesco and the Chargers received excellent value on Allen where they selected him.
Breaking down Allen on a few of the coaches' copy tapes from this season, it's easy to see why he is having early success. He has a natural feel for the position with his field awareness and route runner. Like he did at Cal, Allen is doing a nice job of setting up defenders out of breaks and is especially effective on selling double moves. In addition, he has a nice understanding of spatial awareness out of his cuts in knowing where the ball is going to be thrown from veteran QB Phillip Rivers, who possesses strong anticipation as a passer.
Finally, while he will have an occasional mental lapse which can lead to a drop here and there, overall he has shown reliable hands. Allen is adjusting well to throws outside of his frame and has displayed good toughness, focus and strength working in traffic with contested throws.
Allen still has some development to do in terms of working to gain a cleaner release and eliminating a few costly drops. In addition, he tweaked his knee against Miami and was unable to finish the game, so remaining durable will also be a slight concern.
However, it's hard to argue with Allen's performance so far as a rookie as he looks to be in contention for Offensive Rookie of the Year and headlines what appears to be a strong overall 2013 draft class for the Chargers.