May 19, 2024

He had just left Minnesota’s defense in shambles, catching 18 passes for 215 yards on a day when he also threw for a touchdown.

No player in NFL history had produced such a performance, and now Keenan Allen was walking through a concrete hallway deep inside U.S. Bank Stadium to meet with the media.

Along the way, a member of the Chargers’ public-relations staff was briefing Allen on all the other records he had set, a few of them stunning while others were more, well, obscure.

“You know,” Allen said, interrupting, “some of these sound made up.”

Indeed, chronicling sports achievement these days can become a little convoluted, with so many feats being framed as historic, if not once-in-forever.

But, to add to his genuinely memorable afternoon against the Vikings in September, Allen is on the verge of hitting an undeniably impressive, round and gigantic number.

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates after catching a pass.in front of  Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58).

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates after catching a pass.in front of Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58).

(Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

“Yeah,” he said, “10,000’s big.”

That’s 10,000 career yards receiving, a mark 70 yards away for Allen entering the Chargers’ Monday night matchup at the New York Jets.

He is set to become the 54th 10,000-yard pass catcher in league history and sixth active player to reach the total and might do it in prime time, in one of the NFL’s stand-alone games.

Allen, 31 and in his 11th season, said he remembers as a kid watching Cris Carter eclipse 10,000 yards.

“It was a big deal then,” he said. “I think it’s still a big deal now.”

The only other player to reach 10,000 yards receiving for the Chargers is tight end Antonio Gates, one of Allen’s former teammates and a current nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Gates also is the only one still ahead of Allen in yards and receptions in franchise history. Allen was asked what remains on his to-do list as he continues to topple team and league standards.

“Catch Antonio Gates,” he answered.

And why?

“Because he’s Antonio Gates,” Allen said.

Following the Chargers’ relocation to Los Angeles before the 2017 season, Allen missed just three games before a hamstring injury limited him to 10 games in 2022.

That consistency in availability led to a consistency in production that established Allen as one of the league’s best.

More functional than flashy, he was named to the Pro Bowl each year from 2017-21, a five-season stretch during which he topped 100 receptions and 1,000 yards four times.

“Nothing but love for him, nothing but respect,” Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. said. “He’s going to go down as one of the greats, get that gold jacket one day, for sure.”

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) hauls in a long pass against the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium.

Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (13) hauls in a long pass against the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Recognized as a technician, Allen’s rare skill set is captured best by the fact he’s a receiver celebrated for his feet more than his hands. His route running is often cited as sublime, Allen’s highlights resembling a how-to video.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Allen plays the position “as an art form,” adding that Allen’s “physical gifts aren’t what make him special. It’s how he plays receiver.”

Staley talked about footwork, intelligence and the way Allen can set up and exploit defenders. He praised Allen’s versatility, his ability to play inside and outside and read coverages. He mentioned Allen’s “feel” for the position.

“He has some stuff that’s intangible, that’s hard to find,” Staley said. “I think that if you could give that to everybody else, then you’d have more people that have numbers like he does.

“Some of it is from God and his family. But I think his commitment to the craft, that part’s all Keenan because it’s not like everything he has is God-given. … He’s a receiver that everybody’s trying to model their game after.”

Allen has one year remaining on his contract, a deal the Chargers restructured in the offseason for salary-cap purposes. He has a cap number in excess of $34 million for 2024, clouding his future with the team.

Saying he doesn’t “really have a Plan B,” Allen said he intends to keep playing as long as he can be productive. Entering Week 9, he was eighth in the NFL in yards and tied for eighth in receptions.

“I can’t get my mind around that right now,” Chargers rookie wide receiver Derius Davis said of Allen’s longevity. “Eleven years? That’s a long time. Kudos to Keenan.”

More congratulations could be arriving soon for Allen, who has surpassed 70 yards in four of the Chargers’ seven games. That 10,000 number is just a few more precise routes away.

“In training camp this year, I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s a monster,’ like, we can’t cover him,” Staley said. “And that’s in year 11 for him. … He means a lot to our team. … He’s earning everything that’s coming his way.”

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