You know Keenan Allen. I know Keenan Allen. We all know Keenan Allen.
Had any of us to describe Keenan Allen, I’m sure 90% of the people would throw some words like “elite”, “top-tier”, or “no. 1” in there. Bust, though? Not many folks.
But that is the point we’re at. Keenan Allen is upsetting owners all around the nation. After back-to-back seasons of 1,393 and 1,196 receiving yards. After back-to-back seasons with six touchdowns each. And most of all, after back-to-back seasons finishing the year as a WR1 in fantasy football, Keenan Allen has vanished from the face of the Earth.
Allen’s 2019 season is only passable because of his otherworldly first three games: 26.3, 17.8 and a massive 43.6 fantasy points make up for it. Since Week 4, though? Putrid performances of 9.8, 5.8 and 5.3 points. As a Keenan Allen owner, I beg you to kill me.
What’s the deal with Allen? Why did he started the season like a burning flame and then turned into a frozen snowflake? This is the story of Keenan Allen’s fall, told in four simple charts.
I have plotted every Los Angeles Chargers player with at least four targets in each game of the season, just so you see how Keenan Allen—highlighted in blue—compares to his teammates through six weeks. And let me tell you, Allen really started the season in a massive way. In a truly massive way.
Here are his weekly points and fantasy rankings among wide receivers this season:
- Week 1: 26.3 points, WR7
- Week 2: 17.8 points, WR16
- Week 3: 43.6 points, WR2
- Week 4: 9.8 points, WR35
- Week 5: 5.8 points, WR60
- Week 6: 5.3 points, WR60
As you see in the chart, Austin Ekeler has been a beast from the get-go at the RB position, but both he and Allen ate during the first three weeks. Then, all of a sudden, only Ekeler was able to keep it up while Allen fell into the abyss—Ekeler only regressed in Week 6 because of Melvin Gordon’s comeback... and a monster Hunter Henry performance in a bad game script for the Chargers rusher.
So... What. The. Hell. Went. Wrong. With. Allen?
Knowing the relation between yards and fantasy points, well, it is obvious to see how this and the first charts align almost to perfection. I wanted to get past the simplistic look at just fantasy points per game, so I plotted the most straightly-linked stat to them.
Digging a little deeper, as you see, it turns out Keenan Allen has not been able to rack up more than 48 yards in any of his last three games. Interesting. His first half of the season (through six weeks), saw him reach 98-plus yards every game. In his second he couldn’t reach that number again. In fact, that’s not bad at all. Only Chris Godwin and Cooper Kupp have four games with 98-plus yards through Week 6, so Allen is right up there.
There have been a lot of wide receiver-games through six weeks of play this year in which the wideout couldn’t top 48 yards. As we already know, Keenan Allen has three of them. But while others have been limited in yardage, they have made the most out of other exploitable parts of the game to rack up points anyway. Allen has been incapable of that.
In total, there are 389 instances of a receiver logging between one and 48 receiving yards in a game from Week 1 to Week 6. The average fantasy points per game of those receivers sits at 5.4. Allen’s three games under 48 receiving yards yielded an average of 6.9 points per game. At least he’s not that bad. But he’s not been good, far from it. Allen’s best game under 48 yards amounted to 9.8 points in Week 4. There have been 45 performances of more fantasy points under that yardage mark. Forty-five!
Jaron Brown reached 17.9 points with 29 yards on three receptions and two touchdowns. Tyrell Williams got to 15.6 with 46 yards on five receptions and a score. Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones, logged 15.3 and 15.1 points to the tune of 42/5/1 and 31/6/1 respectively.
These are Keenan Allen’s lines from his last three games: 48/5/0, 18/4/0, 33/2/0. Do you notice anything comparing those to the ones who scored the most points under the 48-yard threshold?
Receptions and scoring, you got it.
Again, Keenan Allen’s production has dropped as he’s started to catch fewer and fewer passes to the ridiculous low of two in Week 6 against Pittsburgh—all of this while trailing big from the start and playing catch up, making matters worse. Ekeler’s ascension is not surprising by now, and he’s been one of the best (if not the best) players of Los Angeles. He’s been great at rushing, and terrific on the passing game keeping up with Allen’s receptions until he even got to surpass him in Week 5 and Week 6.
The share of receptions in the Chargers offense was quite clear on Allen’s pocket for the first three games. There is no doubt about that. But from Week 4 on things changed. There were up to three players with five receptions in such game—and Allen made the least of them, as he had the fewest receiving yards of the three—and in the last two weeks, Allen has been tied or surpassed in receptions by three and four players respectively. Yes, Gordon and Henry are two talented players, but to fall from 13 receptions in Week 3 to just two in Week 6 is a little concerning.
But what is under this downtrend in receptions? I mean, a player doesn’t go from having magnetic hands to becoming Mr. Butterfingers overnight, right?
Lo and behold, the Chargers target share, in all of its grandiosity and meaningfulness in explaining Allen’s demise. No need to sweat it, really. Look at the first three columns and then at the last three with blurry eyes. Which color is dominant in each case? Blue, and orange, respectively. Which is to say: Allen was the go-to guy in the offense for three games, then he starting to be outrightly skipped.
The development is weird, actually, because as you see Allen was on a steady rise from the start of the year going from 10 to 15 to 17 targets in Week 3. Then, there wasn’t even a smooth regression. He just dropped all the way to six targets in Week 4 and he’s remained there for three consecutive games. Actually, a progressive regression would have been much more understandable with Melvin Gordon getting back in Week 5 and both Gordon and Hunter Henry getting targets in Week 6. But that has not been the case.
Being a top-tier wide receiver seeing six targets in a game and putting up so little production as Allen has is where things get ugly, though. As I did with the receiving yards early, I will do here again with targets. There have been 477 wide receiver-games in which the wideout was targeted between one and six times. The average fantasy performance yielded 5.6 points to Allen’s 6.9, but Allen’s best game under the six-target limit pales in comparison to what others have been able to do.
Two players (Demarcus Robinson and Marquise Brown) had 30-plus points games while being targeted six or fewer times. Seven scored between 20 and 25 points. And another 15 players got between 15 and 19 points. Those are 24 players already, and up to a total of 85—eighty-five!—performances finished at higher than 9.8 points (Allen’s best score from Week 4 on).
Keenan Allen’s performances have been worrying lately at the very least, and such a change in his production has made him one of the most volatile players this season. In fact, Allen is averaging 18.1 fantasy points per game while his standard deviation from that mean on a weekly basis is of 14.8 points (Volatility-101: we can expect Allen to score between 18.1 +/-14.8 points any given week, which is a floor of 3.3 and a ceiling of 32.9). That is the sixth-highest deviation of every player with at least five games played this season, and fourth-highest among WR—ranking only behind Will Fuller, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Evans.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to think about cutting or dropping Allen. Looking at the overall leaderboard of the season, Allen still ranks the WR6 and 31st player overall in fantasy football. The problem, though, is what hides under those raw numbers. Allen’s first/last three-game splits are making things look much better than they should. Allen points per game during the first three games were a massive 29.2 (fifth-best league-wide), but his last three games average is a ridiculously low 6.9 (177th). That last number makes Allen a no-go in even the largest and deepest of leagues, but the first one is so solid it calls for the hope of a positive regression coming Allen’s way.
The schedule isn’t getting easier than it’s already been for Los Angeles. The Chargers face three above-average defenses next, and five in their next six games (with a bye in Week 12). Can that make for extra motivation and become the spark that ignites Allen’s fire back? Wait and see.