Keenan Allen versus the sophomore slump

FFToolbox's fantasy football expert Jeb Gorham parses out the statistical evidence whether San Diego WR Keenan Allen can overcome and defy the mythical negative effects of the sophomore slump.

In his rookie year, Keenan Allen was wonderful for fantasy owners. His 1,046 yards on 71 receptions with eight touchdowns put him in stud territory. He finished the season ranked within the top-20 wideouts in both PPR and standard formats with around 223 and 150 fantasy points, respectively. His performances nearing the end of the 2013 season helped push San Diego into the playoff picture.

The question that surrounds Allen in 2014 is can he avoid the sophomore slump and put up big numbers again? Statistically, the sophomore slump is real and we have watched some excellent talents fall victim to poor second-year performances. If we study the top-20 rookie receivers from the past, we get a troubling look at what we might expect from Allen this season. Will Allen become another Anquan Boldin, Eddie Royal or Terry Glenn? If we look results from PPR formats, the average rookie receiver from the top-20 list lost 27-production of their rookie year fantasy value in year two. Only three players in this grouping experienced point increases in their sophomore year: Marques Colston, A.J. Green and Dwayne Bowe. This equates to an average point decrease of about 64 points. If Allen loses 64 points in his second year, he would finish 2014 with around 160 total points. At this level, Allen would be a WR3 candidate on most fantasy rosters.

There are some experts that are skeptical of Allen, but I am partial to the camp that is projecting his sophomore year to be more productive. FFToolbox is projecting Allen at 269.6 fantasy points this season, representing a 21-percent increase in value over last season. If this proves true, Allen would rank third behind Green and Colston with their 40- and 28-percent increases in value from rookie to sophomore years respectively and place him just above Bowe.

Skeptics also argue that opponent defenses have had plenty of time to study up on Allen tape this offseason; however, the former Cal pass-catcher appears to be durable and have a supporting cast around him. In working with Philip Rivers, Allen can continue to demolish opponent defenses with his excellent route-running and capable hands. The likes of Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Ladarius Green and a few pass-catching running backs in Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead all help Allen's cause and San Diego's collective offense.

If I were to statistically estimate Allen's production this season I would conservatively say he will increase his value from 2013, but he may not exactly see that aforementioned 21-percent increase in value. If we estimate based upon a 15-percent increase, we could expect to see just over 1,200 yards, 82 receptions and nine scores.

Either way you project the second-year receiver, Allen should see a bump in his fantasy value and avoid a slump because the data supports it. Whether considering his stellar low drop rate, yards per route run and overall wide receiver rating, Allen has few peers.

Allen has also worked this offseason to build his speed and create separation from his coverage to accompany his naturally good hands and route-running ability. One concern though is if he sustains a lower-leg injury which he can play through; any loss in his already mediocre speed would pose a huge problem.

Click to enlarge.

This is a recent draft board from a Scout Fantasy Draft.
Allen was the first pick of the third round.

The better question for fantasy owners this season besides a possible slump would ask, "Where will he be drafted?"

One piece of advice for fantasy owners is to consider where you draft Allen and maybe let him go if he goes too high. If you have any concerns, it is important to note his ADP projections are at 25.21 according to FFToolbox's latest calculations. This places him at the WR11 or 11th receiver drafted. Being drafted ahead of him are Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Antonio Brown. Allen is being drafted ahead of Pierre Garcon, Cordarrelle Patterson, Victor Cruz and Michael Floyd. This is an interesting group. Floyd could out-produce Larry Fitzgerald this year. Garcon is expected to have an even bigger season. Nelson, Cobb and Brown should all be firmly ahead of Allen. Patterson is a boom-or-bust play and Cruz's lack of production in recent seasons is pushing him down the draft board. Allen is a reasonably safe pick, but everybody else listed here has serious potential. The only way Allen fulfills his ADP value at 25.21 is if he has an even better season. That's asking a lot.

In summary, Allen's risk is greatly minimized if he is the second WR drafted to your roster. This accounts for a similar year or a slight step back. If he improves significantly, your team could have two top-10 WRs. He is unlikely to suffer any significant sophomore slump. Even if he performs at his 2013 level he will be worth your while. However, consider his draft position and look for value – meaning if Allen goes up too early, bide your time and find wideout value elsewhere. The position runs deep this year and there are bargains to be had in the middle rounds as well.

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