At age 21 Keenan Allen had a rookie season that wasn’t as impressive as the one that Odell Beckham just finished, but it was kind of in the same ballpark. Allen didn’t really get going until a little more than a month into the season after the Chargers’ wide receivers had suffered some injuries. He then went on to average 14 fantasy points (half PPR) over the final 12 games he played in.
Like I said, he wasn’t full Odell, but he was close.
Our natural reaction upon seeing that is to expect that the player is only going to get better as he gets older, and I suppose that Allen still could. But it’s also possible that when you’re that good and that young, the powerful force of mean reversion could also play a pretty strong part. Think about that because we actually see it all of the time in both college and the NFL. Justin Blackmon’s strongest college season wasn’t his last season. It was his redshirt sophomore season. But it was so good that he really couldn’t get much better. In fact, how many players just keep getting better and better?
Here’s an image that I made using the recently updated ADP Arbitrage App. I use the ADP Arbitrage app as a way to try to do some critical thinking about player value. If two players recently performed similarly, shouldn’t they have similar values? If they don’t have similar ADP, is there a good reason?
Allen had a season in 2014 that was pretty close to three other players who are all going after him in ADP. Of the three, I can really only see a legitimate justification for Allen being significantly more valuable than Rueben Randle. That’s because Randle’s targets are likely to decrease with the return of Victor Cruz.
Here’s a heatmap from the Box Score Scout which shows how these players looked as college prospects. This is only really relevant from the standpoint that I could see someone saying that Allen actually has a higher ceiling than the other three because he was an inherently more valuable prospect. Except that’s only partially true. He had better numbers for his career than the others, but was also drafted slightly later. He also didn’t have the raw stats that Jarvis Landry or Allen Robinson had in their final seasons.
I’m not actually really criticizing Keenan Allen here. I think he’s likely to continue to have a very promising career as an NFL receiver. I don’t think he’s probably a true WR1, but he could be (i.e. I could be wrong).
But my intent is more to point out that I think you could potentially get reasonable facsimiles of Allen later in the fantasy draft. Out of the players in this group Allen Robinson might actually have the most upside. Because Robinson produced essentially the same on a per game basis as Allen, but did it with an much worse quarterback, Robinson could really build on his 2014 season if Blake Bortles shows any improvement. To put that another way, Robinson might have two levels of safety offered compared to Allen. He is both cheaper to draft and also could potentially really break out with an improvement at the QB position.