With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#22 Keenan Allen, California
We continue this year's series with Cal receiver Keenan Allen, who has had quite the dramatic time since he injured his knee against Utah last Oct. 27. Until then, Allen was well on his way to following up his tremendous 2011 campaign, when he caught 98 passes for 1,348 yards and six touchdowns. He ended 2012 with 61 receptions for 737 yards and six more scores, but had to wait it out as other receiver prospects saw their names bandied about in the pre-draft process.
When Allen was finally able to run for NFL teams, he put up a 4.71 40-yard dash on April 10. There was some speculation that while his knee was 100 percent, the surrounding musculature wasn't fully recovered, leading to his slow time. Others hypothesized that Allen's time merely matched his field speed, and this was why he was likely a second-round pick.
"Let me preface the whole 40-yard conversation with this," Mike Mayock o the NFL Network said at Allen's pro day after he ran that disappointing time. "Three months ago, I said -- if you watch this kid on tape -- if you like him, he's Anquan Boldin. If you don't like him, he's speed-deficient. So I don't really care what he runs in the 40. On tape, to me, he's a 4.55 guy all day long."
Allen is also extremely and consistently productive, an underrated attribute given his relative lack of splash-play ability. He's Cal's all-time leading receiver with 250 receptions, his 2,570 receiving yards ranks third in school annals, and his 17 touchdown catches ranks seventh. There are receivers who last a lot longer in the NFL than some of the purely explosive guys if they understand the fundamentals of the game, and Allen could be just such a player.
Pros: Big receiver who is able to break contact after the catch. Has a comprehensive route understanding and moves well in short spaces, allowing him to get free in zone coverages. Runs slants and drags underneath as a primary part of his route package and has surprising speed to move through intermediate defense. Hard player to bring down overall -- will spin and bull out of tackles. Not a burner in the open field, but does possess some breakaway speed. Gets his face to the quarterback quickly on cutting routes and turns upfield just as quickly. Is able to make catches in traffic and with bodies all around him.
Helps quarterbacks with anticipation throws by coming in and out of his breaks consistently. Has an excellent sense of how to sit down in defenses. Fearless receiver over the middle and in traffic -- knows he's going to get hit, braces for it, and understands how to make gains after. Physical enough to beat press coverage off the line.
Cons: Has a definite ceiling to his speed -- Allen possesses limited velocity on vertical routes and can be caught fairly easily by better defenders in space. Far more of an underneath receiver as a result. Doesn't meet the ball well on vertical routes and could really struggle in this regard on a team that doesn't give its quarterback time. Plays well in the flex, slot, and "Z" positions, but really isn't the kind of guy who's going to take an "X-iso" vertical route over the top of a hapless cornerback.
Conclusion: Allen clearly lacks the extra gear that separates most of the best NFL receivers from the average, and he'll need to maintain and enhance an excellent fundamental understanding of the game to make up for it. Cal's gameplan hid that as a liability with a lot of quick passes. but at the next level, even possession receivers are asked to make tough catches downfield these days. However, he does possess a lot of the same attributes that has made Anquan Boldin a productive, and sometimes indispensable, receiver over his long career. Allen is a tough, savvy, route-aware player who would be getting far more first-round praise had he not suffered the injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season and prevented him from participating in the scouting combine.
The slow 40 at his pro day and the reported red-flagged drug test at the scouting combine (one source told ESPN that there was an unusual amount of water in his system) will have NFL teams wondering about his future, but when one looks purely at the game tape, it's pretty clear that in any offense where drive extension is more important than pure explosiveness, Keenan Allen could make an impact that is both immediate and long-lasting. Boldin was the Cardinals' top-level receiver until they drafted Larry Fitzgerald the year after he came into the NFL. Just as it's no crime to finish second on the depth chart to a player of Fitzgerald's magnitude, there's nothing really deficient in Allen's skill set. His NFL team will have to understand his few limitations, build on his multiple attributes, and should be rewarded with a very productive player over time.