It’s hard to imagine a more heartbreaking script than the one lived out by Keenan Allen in 2016. First, you have to go back to 2015 when the start to a record-breaking season was derailed by a rare kidney injury suffered while making a touchdown catch in Baltimore. That injury led to a hospital stay back in San Diego, and it sidelined Allen for the final eight games of the 2015 campaign.
Fast forward back to June 2016 and the Chargers rewarded Allen with a four-year contract extension through 2019. He was also selected as the team’s recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Allen had made a complete recovery from the kidney injury, and he had an outstanding offseason and training camp. It all carried over into the 2016 season opener in Kansas City. The Chiefs had no answer for Allen as he quickly caught six passes for 63 yards and the Bolts jumped out to an early 21-3 lead. Quarterback Philip Rivers seemingly couldn’t miss as he completed 15 of his first 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown with Allen in the game. But then on the very first play after the two-minute warning of the second quarter, Allen went to plant after making a catch, and he quickly fell to the ground, clutching hisright knee. He immediately knew it was bad and he was right. The diagnosis – a torn ACL. Allen’s injury had a profound impact on the team, especially the Bolts’ offense. Kansas City would go on to rally for a 33-27 win in overtime and on the following day, Sept. 12, Allen was placed on “Reserve-Injured” and his season was officially over.
Now fully recovered from the knee injury, the Chargers are hopeful that Allen can revert to the form he showed back in 2015. It was then that he racked up 67 catches in just 7 1/2 games, tied for third in NFL history at the mid-point of a season. His season-todate included a 15-catch performance in the season opener against Detroit, tying the franchise single-game mark. Two weeks later, he caught a dozen passes, including two touchdowns, in a game at Minnesota. Three weeks later, he caught 14 passes at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field to become the first player in NFL history with at least 12 catches in three of his team’s first six games of a season.
Allen finished the 2015 season with 67 catches, 725 yards and four scores. Even though he played less than half the season, teammates selected him as the squad’s offensive player of the year.
Allen’s breakthrough season in 2015 didn’t come as a surprise to those close to the young wide receiver. After an inconsistent 2014, Allen made a commitment to improving his overall conditioning. He completely revised his diet and improved his training methods. He even started to wear a heavy sweatshirt under his pads when he practiced, so he felt lighter and faster on game days.
A third-round draft pick in 2013, Allen took the NFL by storm that season, earning NFL Rookie of the Year and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors from multiple organizations. In his second season, Allen had another outstanding year, leading the team with 77 catches, good for 783 yards and four scores.
Looking back, as unfathomable as it might sound, Allen’s NFL career almost never materialized.
A projected first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, Allen’s pre-draft stock fell as the result of a knee injury late in his senior season.The Chargers snagged Allen in the third round, but during his first few months in San Diego, the coaching staff limited his reps to make sure that he was fully recovered from the knee injury. Allen also found himself stacked behind a talented group of veteran wide receivers. At one point during training camp, he began questioning himself and his position with the team. He considered walking away to continue his education at Cal and pursue a career in his other field of dreams: Music. Ultimately it was his mother, Doris, convinced Allen to stick with football. Around the same time he was struggling with his future, returning starter Danario Alexander went down with a knee injury, and suddenly Allen found himself receiving more reps with the offense. In the Chargers’ second game of the season in Philadelphia, Malcom Floyd suffered a season-ending neck injury. With Floyd out, Allen’s number was called. On just his second play, Allen caught an 18-yard pass on a 3rd-and-8 play that ignited a touchdown drive and a season that would end with Allen being celebrated center stage as the Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of the Year at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.
Allen went on to lead the team and set franchise rookie receiving records with 1,046 yards and 71 catches. He led all NFL rookies in catches, yards and touchdowns (eight), topping the 1,000-yard plateau during the Bolts’ regular-season finale. He became just the fifth rookie since 2000 to rack up over 1,000 yards. In three games late in the season, Allen caught five touchdown passes, the most by a Chargers wide receiver in a three-game span since 1996. It included an impressive two-game stretch in the course of five days when he caught two touchdowns vs. the New York Giants on Dec. 8 and two more at Denver on Dec. 12. Twice in 2013, Allen racked up more than 100 yards in back-to-back games, a feat that hadn’t been achieved by a Chargers rookie since 1960.
Allen’s outstanding play continued into the postseason as he led the team with eight catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns. It included a 142-yard, two touchdown performance in the divisional playoffs at Denver. It was the Chargers’ second-most receiving yards in a playoff game and the team’s first two-touchdown game in the playoffs since Jan. 1983 (Kellen Winslow). Allen’s yardage total tied for the second-most by a rookie in a playoff game in NFL history (Eagles TE Keith Jackson, 1988) and he became the league’s first rookie since New England’s Julian Edelman (Jan. 2010) with two touchdown catches in a postseason game.
Long before the 2013 NFL Draft, Allen was a player coveted by Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco. In 2011, Telesco attended Cal’s game against USC at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and he noted that Allen stood out on a field that was loaded with great players. Allen enjoyed one of the most prolific days of his career that evening against the Trojans, catching a career-best 13 passes for 160 yards.
Allen left Cal after his junior season having caught a school-record 205 career passes. His half-brother, Zach Maynard, was his quarterback all three years at Cal. Maynard originally enrolled at the University of Buffalo, but transferred to Cal so that he and Allen could be teammates. In 2011, they combined for the longest pass play in school history, a 90-yard score against the Washington Huskies.
One of Allen’s closest friends is Detroit Lions receiver, Marvin Jones. They became teammates at Cal after Jones hosted Allen during his recruiting visit. Allen is a supporter of youth sports.
He is the sponsor for a 13-and-under AAU basketball team nicknamed the Slayers. Last July, he returned to his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., to host a football camp at his alma mater, Northern Guilford High School. In 2016, he teamed up with a local Boys & Girls club to introduce a program called “Catches for Kids” in which supporters could donate money for each of Allen’s catches
TRANSACTION HISTORY: Third-round pick (76), April 26, 2013...signed four-year contract May 13...agreed to four-year contract extension, June 10, 2016.
2016: Ed Block Courage Award...injured right knee late second quarter Sept. 11 vs. Kansas City and did not return...led team with six catches for 63 yards prior to injury...diagnosed with torn ACL and placed on “Reserve-Injured” Sept. 12.
2015: Chargers Offensive Player of Year...tied franchise record with 15 catches (Kellen Winslow at Green Bay, Oct. 7, 1984), good for career-high 166 yards, Sept. 13 vs. Detroit...tied for 11th-most catches in game in NFL history...helped Chargers overcome 18-point deficit (second-highest in franchise history) to win, 33-28...15 catches were most in franchise history by wide receiver and were most by any player on NFL Kickoff Weekend since 1970 merger...early fourth quarter vs. Lions, 15-yard 3rd-and-10 catch during go-ahead touchdown drive...later during touchdown drive for 33-21 lead, caught 20-yarder to Lions’ 22 on 3rd-and-19...12 catches for 133 yards and career-high-tying two TDs (34 and 19 yards) Sept. 27 at Minnesota...four catches Oct. 4 vs. Cleveland for 33 through first four games, tying Antonio Gates (2007) for most catches in team history through first four games of season...Oct. 18 at Green Bay, caught 14 passes for 157 yards...six catches in first quarter and 11 in first half...left game in second half with hip injury and did not return...targeted 15 times vs. Packers and caught 14 of 15...Nov. 1 at Baltimore, caught 13-yard touchdown pass just before halftime but injured kidney on play and did not return...on touchdown drive, caught five-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 and seven-yarder on 3rd-and-5...placed on season-ending “Reserve-Injured” Nov. 3.
2014: Ten catches and season-high 135 yards in Sept. 28 win vs. Jacksonville...Oct. 12 at Oakland, set up game-winning touchdown with career-long 29-yard punt return...six plays later, Chargers scored touchdown for final points in 31-28 win...first touchdown of season (2 yards) among team-high nine catches Oct. 23 at Denver...paced team with 104 yards and TD in 27-24 win over St. Louis Nov. 23...touchdown was game-winner as he bounced back from lost fumble at end of 35-yard catch-and-run at Rams’ 16 on previous possession...season-high 11 catches for 121 yards and two TDs in 34-33 win at Baltimore Nov. 30...targeted season-high 15 times...12-yard touchdown catch in first quarter and 23-yarder to pull Bolts within 30-27 with 3:40 left in fourth quarter...during game-winning touchdown drive one series later, had three catches for 33 yards, including catches of 14 and 12 yards on first two plays...injured ankle after making second quarter catch Dec. 14 vs. Denver...returned briefly in third quarter but did not finish game...also injured clavicle during game...inactive Dec. 20 at San Francisco and Dec. 28 at Kansas City.
2013: Pepsi Next and Sporting News NFL Rookie of Year...Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA), CBSSports.com and Sports Illustrated NFL Offensive Rookie of Year...PFWA All-Rookie...ESPN All-AFC West...first two NFL catches Sept. 15 at Philadelphia...both were third-down catches good for first downs during scoring drives...first went for 18 yards on 3rd-and-11 on TD drive and second for 16 on 3rd-and-7 during FG drive...made first catch despite being interfered with, drawing penalty flag...during 30-21 win over Dallas Sept. 29, helped sustain first TD drive of game with 31-yard catch on 3rd-and-8...later ignited field goal drive for 23-20 lead with 19-yard catch from own 10 on first play...first-career touchdown on seven-yard catch in fourth quarter at Oakland Oct. 6...started drive with 21-yard punt return and drew pass interference penalty on 1st-and-15 play...finished night with 115 yards for first-career 100-yard game...Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of Week after game-high 107 yards in 19-9 win over Indianapolis Oct. 14...second-straight 100-yard game to become only second Chargers rookie (Don Norton, 1960) with back-to-back 100-yard games...scored team’s only TD of night (22 yards) in second quarter...team-high 128 yards and 16-yard late fourth-quarter TD Nov. 3 at Washington...during late game-tying field goal drive, caught 22-yard pass on 4th-and-2, followed by successive catches of 20 and 11 yards...Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of Week after game-high nine catches and 124 yards in 41-38 win Nov. 24 at Kansas City...eight catches for 104 yards in first half...fourth 100-yard game of season set team rookie record...game highs in yards (106) and catches (eight) Dec. 1 vs. Cincinnati…fifth 100-yard game of season and second-consecutive, marking second occasion with back-to-back 100-yard games...first-career multi-TD game in 37-14 win over New York Giants Dec. 8...first half touchdown catches of 43 yards (career long) and four yards, both on 3rd-down plays, helped Bolts jump out to 24-0 lead...raised season receptions total to 61, setting team rookie record (LaDainian Tomlinson, 59 in 2001)...Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of Week after 27-20 road win over 11-2 Denver Dec. 12...touchdown catches of 19 and 10 yards on 3rd down plays in second quarter...third quarter touchdown catch (4 yards) to break 10-10 tie in 26-13 win over Oakland Dec. 22...fifth TD in three games, equaled most by Chargers WR in three-game stretch since 1996...Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of Week after team-high 89 yards in 27-24 overtime win against Kansas City Dec. 29 that put Chargers into AFC playoffs...upped season tally to team-leading and team rookie record 1,046 yards…went over 1,000 yards on 38-yard catch that set up game-tying field goal late in fourth quarter...earlier, 24-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 helped set up TD that tied game at 14-14...held to two catches in Jan. 5 Wild Card Playoff win at Cincinnati, but both were 3rd-down catches in third quarter that helped sustain scoring drives...nine-yard catch on 3rd-and-1 helped sustain TD drive and 12-yarder on later 3rd-and-7 helped sustain FG drive...tied team postseason record with two touchdowns and second-most yards in team playoff history (142) in Jan. 12 Divisional Playoffs at Denver...both touchdowns covered 16 yards in fourth quarter...set up second with 49-yard catch on 4th-and-5.
COLLEGE: Honorable mention All-Pac-12 as junior...third-team All- America and first-team All-Pac-12 as sophomore...second-team All-Pac-10 as frosh...2011 Bear Backers MVP Award...four-time recipient of College Football Performer of Week Award, including three times as wide receiver and once as punt returner...Pac-10 Special Teams Player of Week as freshman vs. Arizona State...third in school history with 2,570 yards and seventh in touchdowns (17)...played at Cal from 2010-12...African-American studies major.
PERSONAL: Born in Greensboro, N.C....spent freshman and sophomore seasons at Grimsley (Greensboro) High School... played alongside half-brother and quarterback, Zach Maynard...transferred to Greensboro’s North Guilford High as junior and senior...USA Today All-America as senior...all-state as junior...as senior, led squad to 3A Mid-State Conference titles.