Cal WR Keenan Allen: Creating Separation With His Hands

Keenan Allen might have DeSean Jackson’s fancy footwork in a 6’3, 205 lbs. frame, but he also flashes some quality hands in more ways than one. Photo by John Martinez Pavliga.

I’ll still be writing about 2012 NFL Draft prospects in the coming months, but with the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio in the books – and available for download – I’m also beginning my work for next year’s draft. See below.

If you’ve been reading my blog for at least a couple of months then you know I have an appreciation for former Cal wide receiver Marvin Jones. As much as I enjoy his technical skill at the position, Jones’ contributions were sometimes overshadowed by the terrific athleticism of his teammate Keenan Allen. The rising junior is 6’3″, 205 lbs. of quick-twitch, X-box-inspired moves once the ball is in his hands.

His skills in the open field are special. There are times that his body and mind appear coordinated on such a higher plain that even when his responses to defenders in the open field appear reactionary and frenetic, he’s still able to string together moves that are amazingly under control – moves that could rival the much smaller DeSean Jackson. Considering that Allen has the type of frame that should be able to add more muscle mass, there might be some Calvin Johnson upside to him. I don’t want to get too sensational here, but one of the things I’m looking forward to seeing next year is if Allen has added more “man weight” to his frame and if he will retain his agility.

Here is one play versus Texas in December 2011 – the end of Allen’s sophomore year – that illustrates Allen’s potential but it doesn’t involve his video game footwork. On this play, Allen demonstrates how a receiver’s hands can create separation from a defender – not just during the initial release, but also in the act of making a reception.

Here’s a 3rd and 3 catch with 13:30 in the third quarter from a 10-personnel (1-back, 0-tight ends) 1×3 receiver set with the trips side bunched to the left of the formation. Allen will run a corner route on this play.

Allen is the outside receiver on the trips side bunched to the formation. The alignment creates a large open space to the left flat versus single coverage. The QB just has to throw it to a spot and let Allen go get it – as long as he can get initial separation on the CB over top.

Allen does an excellent job of using his arms to get outside the CB on this play. Here’s an field-level view of the action.

Allen just a split-second after the snap with the CB shading the outside.

With the corner shading Allen to the outside, the receiver as to anticipate that he’s likely to begin moving further towards the sideline, which will present a challenge for Allen to get behind the CB to the flat unless he can manipulate the defender to move inside.

Allen comes off the line in a drive phase to show he’s accelerating up field. The CB is already leaning to the sideline, but also on his heels as Allen appears poised to sprint up field.

As Allen gets a few yards into his release, his initial drive phase of the route forces the corner to turn his hips to the inside. The receiver has successfully set up the defender for a move to get outside. However, Allen tips off his move in two ways: he rises from his drive phase a little early and his running alignment becomes more upright, Then he begins his break with a hop, leaving his feet before he gets up field.

Allen tips off his move by rising from his drive phase a little early, but the fact Cal’s alignment placed Allen two yards behind the line of scrimmage to begin the play makes it difficult for the corner to play as tight as he might if Allen was on the line before the snap.

The corner is not a big, physical player and he’s reacting to Allen rather than taking charge with physical play. However, the pre-snap alignment is a reason he isn’t playing close enough to jam the receiver when Allen gets upright.  There will be times Allen won’t get this cushion in the NFL. Or, the corner will be aware of Allen’s tendency to get upright well before he sets up a break and he’ll get in position to deliver a punch that disrupts the receiver’s timing.

On this play, Allen applies a two-step move. First he delivers a punch to the corner’s outside shoulder to “encourage” the defender’s momentum to the inside.

Look at Allen’s legs and hips in relation to the corner’s – this is where Allen has already won the first battle to attain separation because the defender is turned too far to the inside to adjust to Allen heading outside.

Next, Allen takes his inside arm and gets it away from the hands of the defender. Usually, you’ll see a swim move where the receiver’s inside arm goes over top the defender’s head and shoulders. Although the photo shows nothing but a blur, Allen doesn’t swim over top as he extends his arm away from his own shoulder.

As long as Allen doesn’t get his arm or feet tangled with the defender, he’s in the clear.

Here’s the arm in clear view extending away from the defender rather than over the top.

While it’s not a textbook swim move, the elements are all there and effective on this play.

The reception is what I find most impressive about his part of the play. Allen does a good job of tracking the ball and displaying the ability to wait until the last moment to extend his arms towards the football and then retract them with the ball to his body at a high speed. This is called having “late hands,” which helps the receiver avoid tipping off the ball’s arrival when the corner has his back to the pass.

Say what you want about Randy Moss’ limited route choices, but his ability to gain separation is masterful and it’s not just about his speed. His “late hands” are among the best ever and some of his greatest catches come as a result of extending and retracting his arms in tight coverage – often in tight spaces. Allen flashes this ability here.

Allen doesn’t begin to extend his hands to the football until it is nearly on top of him in its trajectory.

As Allen tracks the ball, the cornerback has made a nice recovery to get back into the play. The receiver’s ability to secure the ball as quickly as he does is going to be an asset for him in the NFL.

As soon as the ball hits Allen’s hands, he has retracted the ball to his body and turned his shoulders away from the defender to shield the ball.

The fact that Allen already has the skill to use his size and body to create separation that’s just as effective as if he were 10 yards behind the defender is an encouraging sign that he’ll be able to handle a more physical game. He has skill sets to refine, but this play alone demonstrates some important techniques with his hands that can help him transition to the NFL.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the 2012 Rookie Scouting PortfolioPast RSPs (2006-2011) as available at the link at a discount .

3 responses to “Cal WR Keenan Allen: Creating Separation With His Hands”

  1. Great analysis. One small correction: this play came from the Holiday Bowl in December 2011, at the end of Allen’s sophomore year (not freshman year)

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