COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP)Keenan Allen has never been the biggest, strongest or fastest wide receiver during his 11 seasons in the NFL.
It isn’t physical traits alone that have put Allen on the verge of becoming the 54th player in NFL history with 10,000 yards receiving, 70 yards away from becoming the second to produce it all for the Los Angeles Chargers.
“You know, he really plays the receiver position as an art form, and I think that when you play it like him, what makes Keenan special ages well the older you get,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said Thursday.
Considering Allen has put up 70 yards or more in 63 of his 133 regular-season games with the Chargers (3-4), there is a good chance he will join the club against the New York Jets (4-3) on Monday night. To do it against one of the best passing defenses in the game, he will have to show the great hands, technical expertise and spacial awareness that have made Allen a model of consistency and quiet greatness.
“His physical gifts aren’t what make him special,” Staley said. “He can play outside, he can play inside. He can read coverages. He can get to places that others can’t get to because of his feel.”
“You can do so much with him, and that’s why you see the production,” Staley continued. “One of the top receivers in the game, and I think he’s a receiver that everybody’s trying to model their game after.”
Allen, 31, still remembers his first reception in his NFL debut at the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 15, 2013.
“Yep, first catch in Philly. First third-down, backside in route, pass interference,” Allen said of the diving grab for 18 yards while drawing a flag on third-and-8.
He has added another 849 receptions since then, including 56 for touchdowns, covering an additional 9,912 yards.
Excluding the 2016 season when Allen tore the ACL in his right knee in the opener, he has at least 66 grabs, 725 yards and four scores in every one of his other nine completed campaigns.
With 54 catches for 643 yards and four touchdowns through seven games this year, Allen is well on track to for his sixth 1,000-yard season and fifth with 100 receptions.
“He just a baller,” said safety Derwin James Jr., who has played six seasons with Allen. “And he works hard. He practice harder than any guy that you know, so for him to be able to do what he’s been doing, nothing but love for him, nothing but respect.”
Asked what he still wants to accomplish in terms of individual milestones, Allen was succinct.
“Catch Antonio Gates,” Allen said.
“Just ’cause he’s Antonio Gates,” Allen replied.
Gates set Chargers records with 11,841 yards on 955 receptions in 16 seasons, the last six of which with Allen as a teammate.
While there is still plenty of work to do to chase down Gates’ marks, the significance of this upcoming milestone isn’t lost on Allen.
“Yeah, 10,000 is big,” Allen said. “I remember seeing Cris Carter get 10,000 yards growing up watching the Vikings play, and it was a big deal then. So I think it’s still a big deal now.”
To Staley, it isn’t the statistical production alone that signifies Allen’s greatness.
“I know me being here three years, I think I’ve had a deeper appreciation for him every year I’ve been the coach,” Staley said. “The thing about Keenan is he’s been seeing the double coverage for the last eight years of his career. It’s been some type of double, you know, to Keenan on third down. Whether it’s a man-to-man double, a zone double, he’s seen it all, and so he’s just one of those guys that can pick up on all those tactical clues.
“In football, there’s 22 guys out there and there’s 80,000 people in the stadium, and he can pick up on the little things that allow him to separate and be open for the quarterback, and that’s why you see the production year in and year out.”
James summed up Allen’s place in football more succinctly.
“Like I said, he gonna go down as one of the greats,” James said. “Get that gold jacket one day for sure.”
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