Every season, we do our best to predict who the big sleepers and breakout candidates are going to be. Every season, we get a few of them wrong -- very wrong. But just because a certain player goes bust one year doesn't mean they'll be a bust forever. Welcome to "Bust-a-Move," where we're breaking down some of 2014's biggest fantasy football disappointments to determine if you can expect some stat sheet salvation in 2015.
Keenan Allen's entry into the NFL wasn't the smoothest. The Cal product saw six other wide receivers selected before him and had to wait until the third round before being selected by the San Diego Chargers. But instead of immediately endearing himself to Chargers fans, Allen put this image out on social media. Not surprisingly, the fan backlash led to a mea culpa.
Still, it wasn't the greatest of beginnings.
However, it didn't take long for Bolts fans to change their tune on Allen when he started to succeed on the field. When the 2013 season was over, the former Golden Bear was among the league's more productive receivers and led all rookie wideouts with 148.60 fantasy points.
All of those numbers had us drooling about Allen's potential 2014 encore. Reports that he was adding speed to his game had us even more excited. So imagine our disappointment when Allen struggled to remain among the top 50 fantasy options at the position in 2014. Actually, plenty of you don't need to imagine that level of disappointment since there's a pretty good chance that you lived it.
What went wrong
After watching a lot of Allen's games from last season, it's hard to suggest that anything truly went "wrong" with his performance. Much of what you see from him is what you'd like to see from a quality wide receiver -- precise routes and consistent hands. The one knock is that he lacked the speed to be a significant threat downfield ... regardless of what any breathless preseason stories might have had us believe. Despite that, Allen's targets and receptions both increased in 2014. The problem is that his yardage and touchdown totals dropped significantly, thereby putting a big dent in his overall fantasy scoring totals.
This turns into a situation where it helps to bolster the film study with a little statistical analysis. By watching tape of Allen's rookie season compared to his sophomore campaign, it appeared that the young wideout was running more short and intermediate routes. That's likely due to Allen's inability to gain separation from defenders on deep routes. But checking the numbers suggests that the disparity is more than anecdotal. In 2013, Allen caught 29 passes of 10 or more air yards (on 48 targets). That number dropped to 18 (on 39 targets) the following season. That would put the onus on Allen to make up for those lost yards by being good after the catch.
Yeah, about that...
Allen was a pretty good YAC machine as a rookie, finishing 26th in the NFL in that category with 438 yards after the catch. In 2014? Not so much. That number dropped by more than 100 yards -- down to 327 -- and Allen accordingly fell all the way to 58th in the rankings. It's a discrepancy that could have been overlooked if Allen had been able to find his way into the end zone. But even that didn't go his way in 2014. Allen's red zone targets decreased from 19 to 12 and his scores in the red zone dropped from six to two. That about sums up why Allen went bust in 2014.
What must improve
The biggest thing Allen could do would be to show everyone that infusion of speed we read about last offseason. But for a player who ran a 4.71 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, it's hard to imagine that he's going to suddenly morph into Dri Archer. In the meantime, if he continues to run crisp routes and show reliable hands (he dropped just one pass last season), the opportunities will be there.
The hope is that the opportunities start to lead to extra yards and touchdowns. A lot of that will have to do with the routes that Allen is asked to run in offensive coordinator Frank Reich's system. However, it's fair to wonder whether Malcom Floyd's presence (and his 16.5 yards per reception average) will relegate Allen to the intermediate routes. It's also a void that could need filling with Antonio Gates facing a four-game suspension to begin the season.
What we expect
The talent is there for Allen, so for now I'm willing to chalk up 2014 to the vagaries of (fantasy) football. The Chargers offense isn't on par with the likes of Green Bay or Denver, but it's still a pretty productive outfit and Allen is a key cog in that machine. However, it's likely that Allen isn't cut out to be a team's No. 1 receiver and it might be time to revise our statistical expectations. Still it's not far-fetched to think that he'll have a resurgent year and make us believe that last year was just a bump in the road.
Verdict: Look for Allen's totals to more closely resemble what we saw from him in 2013 and a return to being a WR2 is a realistic possibility.