Ken Whisenhunt: Big year for 'focal point' Keenan Allen


Any conversation of the NFL's most underappreciated stars must include San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Entering the league in 2013, Allen became just the eighth rookie over the past two decades to record 1,000 receiving yards. Prior to a season-ending kidney laceration last November, he had compiled 67 catches -- tied for third-most through eight games in NFL history.

With a running game in flux and future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates deep in his twilight years, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt realizes Allen must carry a heavy load in Philip Rivers' offensive attack.

"He's grown. He obviously understands the game," Whisenhunt said Thursday, via the Chargers' official website. "The one thing that shows up all the time is that he makes plays. But he is at the point now where this is an important year because he's going to be a focal point. He is going to have to win one-on-one matchups. That is something that is a real testament to a receiver."

Beyond the exceptional on-pace numbers early last season, Allen was routinely pulling off spectacular catches and out-muscling defensive backs in heavy traffic. If there is one area in which he must improve, however, Whisenhunt believes it's beating the high-end cornerbacks.

"There have been a couple of games where he struggled at times to get off of a good corner," Whisenhunt explained. "Look at (Darrelle) Revis. If he wants to be viewed as one of those guys who can change a game and make those plays, then he has some guys in our division that he is going to have to go up against and win."

Allen didn't square off against Revis last season. Whisenhunt is ostensibly referring to Allen's disappearing act in Week 14 of the 2014 season, in which Revis nearly pitched a shutout in between a pair of 100-yard performances for Allen versus lesser corners.

On track for his first Pro Bowl selection prior to his kidney injury, Allen had little trouble getting open against the Detroit Lions' Darius Slay, the Minnesota Vikings' Xavier Rhodes and the Green Bay Packers' Sam Shields.

Missing half of the 2015 season likely will keep Allen off of NFL Network's The Top 100 Players of 2016 list, but he came in at No. 81 on my list. Inside sources tell Around The NFL that he will be ranked even higher when Gregg Rosenthal's top 70 picks are revealed.