Keenan Allen wants to start, and Danario Alexander's injury opens the door
"I want to be a starter," Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said in June, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I don't want to watch. I want to be part of the moment. I don't want to watch it."
It's an uphill battle for Allen, even after Alexander's injury. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said less than two weeks ago that "he's got a lot to learn," per the team's website, adding, "He's got a long way to go and he'll be the first one to tell you that."
A lengthy rehab from the knee injury Allen suffered last season at Cal no doubt slowed his early development. Allen sat out drills at the Combine and delayed his Pro Day because of that ailment, and his shaky offseason did just enough to drive Allen's value down. So much, in fact, that San Diego nabbed him at No. 76 overall in the draft.
But here's what the last Audibles 2013 NFL Draft Big Board had to say about Allen:
Forget about Allen's uninspiring pro day 40 times (4.71 and 4.75). He's not a speed receiver. The more important news is that he was able to work out for scouts, finally starting to move past his lingering knee injury. If the lack of polish in Cordarrelle Patterson's game scares you, Allen is at the far end of the spectrum -- he's NFL-ready as a receiver.
For a San Diego team that's in desperate need of a talent infusion, Allen appeared to be a sensational fit ... and that was before the unfortunate news about Alexander.
Working in Allen's favor is that he is capable of lining up at any of the receiver spots, as he did at Cal on his way to 205 career catches. If the Chargers want to drop Vincent Brown or Eddie Royal in as a slot receiver, Allen can jump out wide opposite 2012 leading receiver Malcom Floyd in two- or three-receiver sets; if they would prefer Allen in the slot, his game translates well there, too.
The Chargers still have a lot of bodies at receiver. But that group generated minimal production last season, outside of Floyd's 59 catches. Alexander came in second amongst the receivers, at 37 grabs, despite missing six games. That number also landed Alexander behind two running backs (Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown) and tight end Antonio Gates.
The two most proven vets on San Diego's depth chart at WR, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem, both bombed in 2012, combining for a mere 37 grabs. Vincent Brown missed the entire year with an ankle injury, after a 19-catch rookie season.
San Diego will not hand anything to Allen, especially if he has any setbacks with his troublesome knee in the preseason. The Alexander injury, though, accelerates the timetable for the third-round pick. He may enter the exhibition slate fourth or fifth on the depth chart, but the upside here is high enough for San Diego to give its rookie receiver a little longer look now.