But that changed for the Cal product entering his third season in the league, and the improved consistency has made all of the difference.
Allen said he’s more focused on taking care of his body and the daily preparation needed to compete at a high level each week, following in the footsteps of other talented, veteran players on the team like Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle.
“It’s major,” Allen said. “Just seeing Gates, Weddle and Phil -- all those guys come in and they’re here at 5:30. Weddle is in the weight room probably for like three hours after practice. So just putting in the work and dedicating to your craft, it helps a lot when you take it seriously.”
The daily work has led to some staggering numbers. Through seven games, Allen has 62 receptions for 690 yards and three touchdowns.
Allen’s 62 are four more than any other player in NFL history through the first seven games of a season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He needs seven more this week to tie Marvin Harrison in 2002 for the most receptions through eight games.
Allen said as a rookie he thought he had talent and could get away with not preparing as hard as others. But now at 23 years old, Allen has come to realize he has to put in more work if he wants to be great.
“It’s very important,” he said. “I think my role on this team is to be a great, No. 1 receiver. So I have to obviously make the plays that come my way. And I’m trying to live up to it.”
Allen was solid in his second season, finishing with 77 receptions for 783 yards and four touchdowns. But he was not as productive as in his rookie season, when he finished with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight TDs.
Allen dropped 10 pounds and improved his speed heading into training camp this year so he could play faster during the regular season, and the hard work has paid off.
“I’ve seen a more daily focus,” Rivers said. “And I think that’s growing as a pro -- learning what it means to be focused daily.
“There’s a consistency to his approach. That doesn’t mean he’s lost his ability to have a good time and be himself and all of those things. But he has a consistency in his approach, and I think that’s shown in his production on the field.”
That consistency has led to more confidence, too.
“The more you do it, the more you feel like this is you,” Weddle said. “You come from college and you’re probably the best player. But when you come here, you’re around the best players from everywhere. So it takes that adjustment to your psyche.
“Then you make a few plays and you play well. You string some seasons together, and then you feel like this is like college all over again. You get comfortable with yourself, and your play takes over from there. It looks like that’s happening for Keenan.”
The rest of the league has taken notice of Allen, too.
“He’s a guy that you really have to know where he’s at and keep tabs on him,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He can do it all. He’s a really good route runner, and he’s got size. That’s a great combination that you don’t see that often, along with hands and catch radius.
“So he’s a playmaker down the field, underneath and after the catch. He’s a really good run-after-catch guy. I think he’s one of the top guys in the league.”