Five good reasons Keenan Allen should be Comeback Player of the Year

COSTA MESA, Calif. – Of all of the things that went right for the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the season, the spectacular play of receiver Keenan Allen might top the list.

“He’s a great route-runner, and he just has a natural feel for the game, that I think he’s just born with,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “He’s got a great rapport with our quarterback, too. He was a tough cover for a lot of people this year. A lot of people knew we were going to him on third down, and he still produced for us.”

The Cal product played a 16-game season for the first time in his five-year NFL career, finishing with 102 receptions for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns.

Allen became the first player in NFL history to record 10-plus catches, over 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown in three consecutive games in a stretch from Week 11 to Week 13. He finished with 33 catches for 442 yards and four touchdowns in wins against the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns.

Allen suffered a right ACL injury during the first half of the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016, ending his season. But with a diligent rehab he rebounded, making the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

Players such as Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch also are in the conversation, but here’s five reasons Allen deserves this year’s Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year award, which will be announced in a few weeks.

Allen produced: His 102 catches are the most in franchise history, and his 1,393 receiving yards are second in team history. Those are pretty impressive numbers considering this is the same organization that produced “Air Coryell,” Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, and a Norv Turner-led passing game a decade ago.

Allen’s production led to winning: Most fans are aware that the Chargers were 7-1 when Hunter Henry was targeted at least five times this season. But the same was true when Allen was more involved in the offense. The Chargers were 6-1 in games Allen had at least six receptions.

Durability: Staying healthy had been an issue for Allen so far in his NFL career. But in 2017 Allen finally played a full season, appearing in 859 snaps on offense. Allen even had an interception on defense on a Hail Mary attempt by quarterback Bryce Petty against the New York Jets.

Dominant on the money down: With Antonio Gates taking on a reduced role, Allen emerged as Philip Rivers’ security blanket on third down. Allen finished with an NFL-high 36 receptions for 552 yards and two touchdowns on third down.

Allen the YAC master: A former running back in high school, Allen’s 512 yards after catch were good enough for No. 8 in the NFL and third among receivers in 2017.