Fantasy Football: What Went Wrong with Keenan Allen in 2018

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Welcome to the second installment of the “What Went Wrong?” article series. Once again, we will analyze a disappointing fantasy football player’s performance in the 2018 NFL season and identify the lessons learned. This article focuses on Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen. Keenan Allen finished as WR12 in 0.5-point leagues despite being drafted as the consensus WR6 in 2018 fantasy drafts, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fantasy football owners.

What Were We Thinking?

Entering 2018, Keenan Allen was a rising star primed for another top-5 WR fantasy season:

  • He finished the 2017 season as the WR3.
  • Allen averaged 19.1 points per game in the second half of 2017. Most experts expected this to be the true Keenan Allen, who missed almost the entire 2016 season after a torn ACL and spent the beginning of the 2017 season catching back up to speed.
  • Allen played all 16 games in 2017, dispelling any concerns that he was injury prone (2016 torn ACL, 2015 lacerated kidney).
  • The Chargers were projected to have a prolific offense led by a steady, experienced Philip Rivers under center. He was already familiar with the offensive system, as he was entering his sixth season with the Chargers.
  • He was entering the season at a prime wide receiver age of 26.

Allen was ready to explode in 2018 and had upside to become the WR1 overall. Those looking for a high caliber, known commodity were ecstatic to grab him at his average draft position (ADP) in the middle of the second round.

What Went Wrong?

The 2018 Chargers had an excellent season and made the playoffs with a 12-4 record. Allen finished the fantasy season as a top-12 wide receiver….so what was the problem?

  1. Allen scored an average of 2.6 fewer points per game than the WR6 (his ADP). That’s the difference between rostering Deshaun Watson (QB4) and Dak Prescott (QB10) last year.
  2. Allen got off to a slow start. After a great week 1 performance, he scored single-digit points the next three weeks in a row and also had seven straight games without a touchdown.
  3. He averaged a putrid 8.2 points per game in the fantasy playoffs (weeks 14 – 16), mostly due to a hip pointer injury in week 15. While this type of injury is unpredictable, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
  4. Philip Rivers only had 1 great game in 2018, as defined in The TRUTH About QBs in 2018 Pt. 2. Rivers also threw for his fewest pass attempts in ten years. Although Rivers still put up respectable numbers, his regression certainly impacted Allen’s performance.
  5. Most leagues saw Allen (ADP WR6) drafted ahead of similarly ranked Davante Adams (ADP WR7). Davante Adams finished the 2018 season as WR3 overall, averaging almost four points per game more than Keenan Allen. Although Davante Adams’ success has no correlation to Allen, it was like rubbing salt in the wound for people like me who had a hard time deciding between the two and went with Allen.
Player Comparison

Before moving onto lessons learned, let’s take a detour and dive into a player comparison exercise. Bear with me…This will all tie together shortly. Who would you rather have – Player A or Player B?

Player A recorded 87 receptions for 1,178 yards and two touchdowns, good for WR17.

  • Great games (>22 pts): 0% of the time
  • Good games (>10 pts):44%
  • Bust games (<7 pts): 19%

Player B recorded 112 receptions for 1,411 yards and ten touchdowns, good for WR6.

  • Great games: 25%
  • Good games: 63%
  • Bust games: 6%

The graph below shows compares the fantasy performances between Player A and Player B (excluding bye weeks):

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Who would you rather own next season? Player B is the clear frontrunner, especially if I told you that game 14 was an anomaly.

Here are the players behind the comparison: Surprise – they’re both Keenan Allen!

  • Player A represents Allen’s first-half performances in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, placed back to back.
  • Player B represents Allen’s second-half performances in 2017 and 2018.

Keenan Allen is an NFL version of Jekyll & Hyde. Throughout his career, he has consistently performed significantly better in the second half of the season than the first half. In the four seasons that Allen played more than eight games, he averaged 10.9 fantasy points per game in the first half of the NFL season and 14.3 in the second half. In 2018, he scored one TD in the first half of the season and five in the second half. He did the exact same thing in 2017.

[lptw_table id=”159404″ style=”default”]

Interestingly enough, there is no correlation between Allen’s splits and Rivers’ production. In fact, Rivers performed better in the first half of the season in both 2017 and 2018.

Lessons Learned
  1. Keenan Allen is a top tier NFL wide receiver. However, he is NOT an elite, tier one fantasy performer like DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Davante Adams (it still hurts to bring him up).
  2. His floor is a top-18 WR.
  3. His ceiling is a top-5 WR.
  4. The major reason for his 1st half / 2nd half season split is his touchdown count.
  5. Allen has maintained a respectable target share of about 27-28% over the past two seasons. This should continue.
  6. Allen hasn’t scored more than 6 TDs since his rookie season. While I fully expect Mike Williams to take a step forward and catch another 10+ touchdowns this season, he and the other Chargers’ pass catchers should not hinder  Allen.
2019 Outlook

Allen’s current ADP is WR13 (mid 3rd round) as of the time of this writing. This is pretty much spot on for his value. If you’re drafting at the back of a 12-team league, I would be glad to roster two high level running backs and hope that Allen falls to the end of the 3rd round. While he’s not an ideal WR1, he should be a good fit for fantasy owners who can grab another strong receiver for their WR2 spot. Or better yet, trade for him around weeks 6 – 8 and ride him to the fantasy playoffs!

P.S. To those in my dynasty league… Ignore the above article. Keenan Allen is the best thing since sliced bread and you should make me an offer immediately.

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