Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, the winner of Pro Football Weekly’s 2017 Comeback Player of the Year Award, is no stranger to comebacks.
Allen entered 2017, his fifth year in the league, in search of his first 16-game season. His 2016 was halted after just 27 offensive snaps by a torn right ACL. He lacerated his kidney in the eighth game of the 2015 campaign, when he was on track to threaten Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison’s NFL record 143 receptions.
And Allen entered the league in 2013 as a third-round rookie out of Cal, where his junior season was cut short by a knee injury. Allen’s ascent up his first NFL depth chart wasn’t instantaneous, and he nearly quit football, he said, after he was the Chargers’ only healthy skill player not to play a snap in his NFL debut.
Rather than quit, Allen went on to rewrite the franchise’s rookie receiving records en route to being named PFWA's Rookie of the Year. It’s no wonder, then, that he again responded from last year’s knee injury by reaching new heights.
Allen did so much more than play a full season in his return from two gut-wrenching season-ending injuries, the latter occurring just months after the Chargers made him one of the NFL’s higher-paid receivers, with a four-year extension containing more than $20 million guaranteed.
The 25-year-old’s 1,393 yards and 102 receptions ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the NFL in easily his finest campaign and perhaps the best by a receiver in franchise history.
“Credit to him. I’m happy for him, excited,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told reporters in Week 17, after Allen’s seventh 100-yard game of the season. “He really attacked the rehab head on. … One of his biggest goals was to be out there for all 16, and you knew if he was out there for all 16, he’d have a heck of a chance to have the type of year that he had.”
The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Allen, a spectacular route runner who morphs into a running back after the catch, attracted more targets (159) than all but four other players — DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry and Larry Fitzgerald. His 13.7-yard average was his highest since his rookie season.
The 9-7 Chargers, if not for early-2017 kicking woes contributing to an 0-4 start, might also have rallied for their first playoff berth since his rookie season. They won nine of their final 12 games, including a remarkable three-game stretch from Allen in Weeks 11-13, when he authored lines of 12-159-2, 11-172-1 and 10-105-1.
It wasn't quite the same as AFC West rival Alex Smith playing his best season after Kansas City traded up in Round 1 to nab his eventual replacement, Pat Mahomes. But it's worth noting the Chargers surprised many this spring in taking former Clemson standout Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick. Williams' rookie year, though, was largely lost due to injury. Allen's running mate, Tyrell Williams, couldn't replicate his 2016 breakout.
Allen didn't just pick up where he left off before the serious injuries — he returned better than ever.
After accomplishing his personal goal of starting all 16 games for the first time, allowing him to enter the offseason as healthy as he’s been in years, what is Allen planning for an encore?
"Just to come back and do it again," he said. "Come back and be more consistent, and try to get better."
Does anyone doubt him?
An 18-person panel, comprised of PFW editors and contributors, voted on end-of-season awards the week of Dec. 27