ESPN NFL insider Matt Williamson listed 14 current players as No. 1 pass-catchers in the NFL in this ESPN Insider piece. Surprisingly, the San Diego Chargers did not have a player on that list, even though Keenan Allen posted 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season last year.
Williamson followed that article up with this ESPN Insider piece detailing his top 13 future No. 1 pass-catchers. Now, I fully expected to see Allen’s name on this list. But another San Diego player, talented tight end Ladarius Green, was included instead.
I understand Williamson’s reasoning for leaving Allen off of this list. Here’s what Williamson had to say about Allen when asked to evaluate San Diego’s receiving group in a positional analysis I posted last week.
“As much as I like Allen, to ask him to improve dramatically in one season may be asking too much,” Williamson said. “He’s a really good receiver, but he does not have the athletic ability of an A.J. Green or a Julio Jones. He could be close to his ceiling already.
“He uses his body really well. He’s an advanced route runner, has good hands and is physical. But he’s not fast. Teams will have another year to study him, and they’re not afraid of the deep ball against him.”
Williamson says that Green could be the next Jimmy Graham because of his size and speed, and believes Antonio Gates is impeding the Louisiana-Lafayette product’s development. Williamson is not as high on Allen because he does not believe the Cal product has enough speed to consistently create separation and force corners out of their backpedal.
And I agree with this sentiment -- to a point. As a slow possession receiver back in college known more for crack-back blocks than explosive plays, I can appreciate a 4.4-second, 40-yard time more than most.
However, the ability to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage, short-area quickness, strong hands, polished route running, competitiveness and the ability to run after the catch have more to do with winning consistently in man coverage in the NFL than straight-line speed.
The most obvious example of this fact is Jerry Rice, considered by most the best receiver in the game. Rice ran a 4.6-second, 40-yard time coming out of Mississippi Valley State. But you rarely saw Rice get caught from behind.
Hall of Famer Cris Carter and San Francisco's Anquan Boldin are two other receivers who have a similar skill set to Allen, and both had long, productive careers in the NFL. In my opinion, Allen is elite at enough of these characteristics that he will develop into a true No. 1 receiver with diligence and hard work.
Another underrated aspect for Allen is he has one of the best quarterbacks in the game throwing to him in Philip Rivers.
The Oakland Raiders have had one of the best 4 X 100-meter relays at receiver in the NFL in the past decade, but that speed has not equated to consistent production.
Allen ran a 4.71-second, 40-yard time at his pro day coming out of Cal. But he still was nursing a knee injury, and is probably more of a 4.55 guy now. That’s fast enough.
Speed is important, but it isn’t everything.