SAN DIEGO (AP) — Keenan Allen hasn't had to dig deep for motivation his rookie season.
All the San Diego Chargers receiver has to do is think back to April's draft, when he expected to be taken in the first round and instead didn't hear his name called until the third round.
He figures teams passed on him because of a slow 40-yard time he ran before the draft — the result of a knee injury that ended his 2012 season at California.
"I wasn't 100 percent healthy but I ran it just to show that I was competitive," Allen said. "It did hurt me, unfortunately. Now it's hurting them."
It was an eye-opening lesson in the way many in the NFL get mesmerized by numbers and might miss something else.
"Definitely," Allen said. "I don't think a 40 time determines a guy's ability to play football at all."
Allen has shown that being ready when an opportunity presents itself and working hard is what really matters.
With 63 catches for 931 yards, Allen has broken LaDainian Tomlinson's team record for receptions by a rookie and needs 71 yards to break John Jefferson's team rookie record for yards receiving. He's got a good shot at winning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Pretty good stuff, considering that Allen didn't play in a season-opening loss to Houston and then had just three catches in the next two games combined.
Allen said during training camp that he wanted to start.
"Realistically, I probably wasn't going to start, but it was just my mindset to just go out to work every day, to put that confidence in my head to start, to do whatever it takes," Allen said.
He moved up the depth chart after Danario Alexander tore up a knee in training camp and Malcom Floyd was hurt in the second regular-season game.
Veteran Eddie Royal said Allen has done the little things right, such as taking care of his body and studying film.
"He had the right attitude mentally," Royal said. "He even said during training camp that he wanted to start this year. Some people might have looked at him like he was crazy, but he knew what he wanted to accomplish and he had the right mindset and he worked at it like he wanted to be the starter. He worked as if he was the starter. When he did get that opportunity, he was able to step in and make plays."
Allen didn't run a 40 at the scouting combine in February. When he did run a 40 for scouts before the draft, he was still coming off rehab.
But Chargers general manager Tom Telesco recalled seeing Allen make a career-high 13 catches for 160 yards against Southern California in 2011.
"You don't forget when you see a game like that and you see players like that even if it was a couple years before," Telesco said.
Technically, Telesco was among those passing on Allen. The rookie GM took tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round and then linebacker Manti Te'o in the second.
"I missed on Keenan twice," Telesco said. He added that he was "excited and then nervous" as the Chargers' third-round pick approached and Allen was still on the board.
Telesco said Allen has excelled because of pure athletic ability and a knack for separating himself from defenders.
"If you make the analogy to a point guard in basketball who has court awareness, he has great field awareness, for where he is on the field and where the cornerback and linebackers are," Telesco said. "That's not taught. That's God-given football instinct."
Allen had two touchdown catches in last Thursday night's upset at Denver, including one when he hurdled a defender and then slammed into another as he ran into the end zone.
"He just has that knack," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "He has a great feel and will and ability. When I threw him the ball the other night, in his mind there was nothing that was keeping him out of the end zone. There is a long list of receivers that get tackled on the 3- or 4-yard line and in his mind it was just, 'How am I going to get in?' There are certain guys that have it and certain guys that don't."
Allen has had two touchdown catches in each of the last two games and seven overall.
"I can't imagine there being another rookie that has had as much impact and has been as valuable as he has been to us," Rivers said. "When you lose Danario and Malcom, the way he has stepped up and how he has performed, not just having a role, I mean, he has had a huge role and has made a bunch of game-changing plays, it seems, every week. He has definitely had a heck of a rookie season."