Keenan Allen moves from third round to the limelight

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers found their receiver of the future in the third round, now Keenan Allen is on the verge of winning Rookie of the Year honors.

The old football axiom is that a draft class can't be properly evaluated for three years, but after 14 games San Diego Chargers rookie Keenan Allen is head and shoulders above his peers.

It took three rounds for Allen to hear his name and six receivers went off the board before him, but landing on the right team is a product of finding the right fit, rather than being selected first. Pairing with a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers has worked wonders, where other players are stuck on rebuilding teams or mired in mediocrity.

A dominant two touchdown Thursday Night Football outing likely has the six teams that passed Allen wondering if they made the right move. He was a long-striding receiver from California, recovering from a knee injury and hurt by inconsistent quarterback play. It didn't matter that he was college football's best pass catcher for much of the year, there were questions whether his lack of straight-line speed would hurt him in the NFL.

Allen's quick success turns a magnifying glass on myopic pre-draft evaluation and a love of numbers over film. Concerns about his knee were very real, but Allen represents the second-straight draft the receiver knocked for being "slow" is having the most NFL success. He's joined by Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears, who's on pace for more than 1,400 receiving yards in 2013 after being doubly-hit with "slow" and "overweight" evaluations before the 2012 draft.

San Diego's passing offense was hit with a series of injuries to start the year. Top receiver Malcom Floyd was lost for the season with a neck injury, necessitating the rookie to step up in his absence. Allen responded with 931 yards in 13 games, starting 12 since the season began. Project that to a full year and he'd have 1,145 yards -- more than the production of A.J. Green and Julio Jones when they were rookies in 2011.

Spending the pre-draft process with former receiver Ricky Proehl helped Allen develop into the most pro-ready receiver of the 2013 class. The North Carolina native spent time with Proehl at his private gym, rehabilitating and holding his pro day shortly before the draft to give him the maximum amount of time to recover. This late workout likely hurt Allen's draft stock, but not pushing his recovery allowed him to be ready when the season rolled around.

The result is a player who's Proehl-esque in many ways, splitting coverage and controlling his body at the point of catch in a similar way that allowed the former wideout to finish his 17 year career with over 8,000 receiving yards and 54 touchdowns.

The Chargers need a series of small miracles to secure a wild card in 2013, but their win in Denver indicated there's plenty to be excited about for the future. First year head coach Mike McCoy has installed an offensive system that plays to Rivers' strengths, and allows a receiver like Allen to find holes in coverage when paired with reliable down field running.

Rookie of the Year voting is around the corner, and Allen will find himself in the thick of it. He's well on his way to becoming the NFL's next great receiver -- not bad for a "slow" prospect six teams passed on.

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