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Why Keenan Allen is the NFL's Master of Deception


Keenan Allen takes one step off the line of scrimmage…and he's already laughing to himself.

He knows he has his man beat before the cornerback can even react.

It's a sight we've all seen time and time again, and it's something he's been perfecting since the late '90s. In fact, when asked if he can remember when he first started dominating as a wideout, Allen explained it was way before he even knew what football was really all about.

Back when he was merely a six-year-old schooling kids older than he was.

"I was climbing in the backyard with the fellas, homies growing up, family and the older kids," he recalled. "I was just able to cut and people miss. I was juking them. It was silly."

The thing is, as Allen moved up the ranks to high school, college and even the NFL, it never got any harder for him.

Going up against elite cornerbacks feels as easy now as it did when he was that young kid on the playground, and he credits that for one major reason – his route running.

Philip Rivers has seen all sorts of wide receivers during his Hall of Fame career, but none compare to Allen's mastery of the craft.

"It's special," Rivers said. "There are certain things you can teach, and certain things you can't teach. Now, he's been taught some things, but he has a lot of things he has that you just can't teach. His ability to come off press coverage and find all those different ways to get open, it's unique. But it's all within the scheme. It's never too much freelancing. So yeah, for all those reasons, (his route running) is special."

They say deception is a magician's best friend, and to that end, Allen is an absolute Houdini when it comes to running routes. It's his ability to run every part of the route-tree at the same speed that drives the opposition crazy.

Nearly every single wideout has a tell one way or another that tips cornerbacks off with what's coming next. It could be a slowdown at the top of the route, the way the wide receiver plants his foot, how he moves his hips, the manner in which his head bobs or numerous other tells.

Allen does none of those things.

The key to deceiving the cornerback is to do everything the same way with the same speed.

"I just have this ability to make people move the way I want them to," the 26-year old explained. "I get them to go where I want them to. I just know how to get at them. It's very important for me to do everything the same speed to be successful. It can be hard though because you've got to be comfortable with the game, comfortable with the game plan and know the timing that you have to be there. So it's just understanding the speed, and understanding how fast you can run to get (the cornerback) to make him move."

Casey Hayward has been a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection for two years running, shutting down some of the elite wideouts in the game. Having gone up against "KA13" every day in practice over that span, Hayward emphatically states that no one comes close to Allen when it comes to running routes.

In fact, his eyes grow wide and he lets out a deep sigh, shaking his head in disbelief over what Allen is able to do on the football field.

"Man, it's crazy," he said. "His hips, they're ridiculous. He's got hips! No other receiver has hips like he does. He can get in and out of his breaks so fast and smooth. When you press him, he's like James Harden on the basketball court. You can't stay in front of James Harden. You can't stay in front of Keenan Allen. So he's very special. He's the best wide receiver in the league running routes."

Those things have always come naturally to Allen. However, in recent years he's learned to use all his tools to trick cornerbacks, setting them up exactly how he wants to in order to gain leverage. It's for that very reason he's been given the moniker "Slayer" as he's learned to absolutely embarrass those trying to guard him.

In fact, he can feel opposing cornerbacks grow frustrated as they have no idea where he's heading.

"I hear them all the time," he said. "And after it's all (respect). They say how smooth I am. How I make everything look the same. That I'm a technician and I made those cornerbacks look stupid."

Allen grew up wanting to be like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss.  Much like he emulated his heroes, Allen now hears from young kids and high schoolers who say they want to be just like him on the field.

So, what advice does he give to those mini-Slayers who want to learn how to be masters of deception?

"Keep your nose over your toes and keep your weight under your knees underneath yourself," he said, sharing his secrets to route-running. "Sink your hips when you go into your break point. Attack the cornerback. Stay true to your technique. Know your coverage. Use your leverage and set (the corner) up if he's inside, outside, on top or underneath. Be subtle with your movements."

Still, more than anything, Allen wants to be considered in the same breath of the greats that came before him. He simply refuses to settle for anything less.

In fact, when he finally hangs up his cleats, Allen knows exactly how he wants to be remembered.

"I want them to say how smooth I was. How I made everything look the same. That I was a technician. And most of all, that I made those (cornerbacks) all look stupid."

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