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Spotlight: Mike Wallace

posted by Steve Holloway on Jul 28th


Steve Holloway's thoughts

Setting the Stage
Mike Wallace is a New Orleans native that played both sides of the ball in high school. He received a scholarship offer to attend Oregon State after insisting that his best friend, Keenan Lewis (one year ahead of Wallace) also get an offer. As a senior, he led his team with 60 receptions for 1,039 yards and 19 TDs. He also displayed great return skills, returning four kicks for TDs and having another seven return TDs called back by penalties. After his senior season, he changed his mind and followed his high school coach who joined the coaching staff at Ole Miss. He played all four years and his stats improved in each year. His career statistics at Ole Miss were 101 receptions for 1,910 yards and he scored 15 TDs. He consistently displayed the ability to get behind defenders and averaged 18.9 yards per catch.

He was invited to attend the NFL Combine and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash to increase the attention shown, but was not drafted until the third round (84th overall) by the Pittsburg Steelers. Surprisingly, he was the 11th wide receiver selected. The 2009 draft's first round alone featured six wide receivers (Darius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt). The table below compares the total production for the first three years of those six wide receivers and Wallace.

Name Drafted OriginalContract Tgts Recs Catch% Yds YPR TDs
Heyward-Bey 7 5-yr$38M-$23guar 218 99 45.4% 1,465 14.80 6
Crabtree 10 6-yr$32M-$17guar 301 175 58.1% 2,232 12.75 19
Maclin 19 5-yr$15.5M-$9.5guar 299 187 62.5% 2,850 15.24 19
Harvin 22 5-yr$12M-$8.4guar 319 217 68.0% 2,604 12.00 17
Nicks 29 5-yr$12.5M-$6.5guar 333 200 60.1% 3,002 15.01 24
Britt 30 5-yr$9.5M-$6.5guar 174 101 58.0% 1,765 17.48 15
Wallace 84 3-yr$1.7M 283 171 60.4% 3,206 18.75 24

There was a significant difference in the contracts initially signed by the first round selections compared to Wallace, as you'd expect. A closer look at the career to date production from that group provides an interesting take. The general consensus view of Wallace is that he is one of those speed receivers that is excellent on deep routes, but does not have the capacity to run a variety of route packages. Others have accused him of not having very good hands. When compared to his draft class peers though, he comes through with flying colors. His catch percentage is only behind Harvin and Maclin, but Harvin in particular catches a significant number of wide receiver screens, as witnessed by his career 12.0 ypc. Wallace has the most yards by far and is tied with Nicks with the most TDs. His 18.75 ypc is also the clear leader, with only Britt at 17.48 ypc, even close to him.

A review of his individual year stats provided below also shows that he has improved his production in each season with the Steelers. In non-ppr scoring systems, he has finished fifth and ninth in the past two seasons.

Year Gms Tgts Recs Catch% RecYds YPR TDs Rank
09 16 72 39 54.2 756 19.4 6 28
10 16 98 60 61.2 1,257 20.9 10 5
11 16 123 72 58.5 1,193 16.6 8 9
Totals 48 293 171 58.4 3,206 18.7 59

An article published by Pro Football Focus further disproves the theory that Wallace is a one trick pony that specializes in the deep route. For 2011, they rank him as the fifth best wide receiver on slant patterns. They also recognize his speed and elusiveness by ranking him second, behind only Joshua Cribbs on wide receiver screens. He is ranked as the fifth best wide receiver on post and corner routes which is further solidified by his 18.7 career yards per reception rate.

Looking Forward to 2012
The Pittsburgh Steelers paced a first round tender on then restricted free agent Mike Wallace. No other teams made him an offer which would have resulted in a loss of their first round draft pick. Wallace has thus far refused to sign the one year tender, which would pay him $2.742 M for 2012. Although the Steelers have said that they want to keep Wallace, they have suspended negotiations until he signs the tender and reports to camp. The recent signing of Antonio Brown to a six-year $43 Million contract further strengthens the Steelers resolve for Wallace to show up to camp. It is possible that there will be no additional negotiations even if he does return.

The Steelers may likely begin the year without Rashard Mendenhall, far and away their most effective running back the past couple of seasons. So in addition to installing an offense that may increase the number of passing plays, they also will have limited depth at the running back position.

Positives

  • The Steelers new offensive game plan may pass a little more than they have recently
  • If Wallace signs the one-year tender, he will have the added motivation that he could be playing for his pay day during next off-season
  • Hines Ward has retired opening up some additional targets
  • He has a strong armed quarterback that is willing to give him opportunities at big plays deep down the field

Negatives

  • He is missing valuable camp time and the opportunity to fully learn the new offensive system
  • The Steelers have viable young receivers who could run with the opportunity he is presenting them by missing camp

Final thoughts

Wallace is currently being drafted as WR11 and 33 overall, even while he finished as WR9 a year ago. If the passing game is any more productive than a year ago, there is an opportunity for increased production as the reliable Hinds Ward has retired. The longer that Wallace remains out of camp, the lower his ADP may fall, but he is also missing the opportunity to fully learn the offense. If he gets into camp early enough to catch on, his value could peak as many will not move him back up in their ratings. However, he also has the potential to miss a portion of the season and be a huge disappointment to those who drafted him. His situation definitely needs to be monitored all summer.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Gawain said:

Mike Wallace scares me.

Hold out aside, there is a definite argument that Wallace is a 1B option at best in Pittsburgh. Though Wallace had more yards, more TD's and a better catch %, Brown still saw more targets last year.

While Pitt is generally in the top half of the league in passing yards (10-14-9-17 past four years), the prolific numbers of the top-5 teams probably won't occur. So, for Wallace to break into the top-5 of WRs, he needs to be the definitive #1 option for the Steelers. With Brown and Sanders, I don't believe Wallace can break the 120 target barrier. Even with a slight increase in catch percentage to 65% (up from 63%), Wallace maxes out at 78 catches. Wallace also saw a fairly significant reduction in YPC last year. I think a 17 YPC is a safe prediction.

griff321 said:

File me in the "stud" camp. I think people that try and put him in a "one trick pony" box are coming from a place of ignorance. They see a player who is possibly the fastest person in pads, and they immediately associate that with a guy that is a fly pattern specialist only. He was utilized in this manner a lot, but it's also because of his amazing speed. Consider this, in the White vs Wallace thread it got me thinking about some similarities between the two. Both are listed at 6-0ft and White has 12 pounds on Wallace. Wallace ended his third season only 1.72PPG behind White in PPR. They are not the same players, in fact I feel that Wallace has more raw physical ability than White.

Some big questions do exist. One would be his average stats in the second half of last season. My view is that a lot of that had to do with the big ben injuries and multiple o-line problems. Then you have the emergence of Brown. You don't pass on a Greg Jennings or Nicks because of the presence of Nelson and Cruz, so why would you pass on Wallace for the same reasons? Personally, talent always takes precedence over situation, and I feel like Wallace has talent in spades. I think that he doesn't take his talent for granted and he's often been praised as one of the hardest workers on the team. He would sleep at the facility if he could. If I remember correctly he's one of those guys that showed up at the facility when the injunction against the lockout happened. My biggest concern is an extended holdout. We've seen this song, and dance before with clients of Rosenhaus. The holdouts are usually long and they seem to hurt the player that season significantly, especially when Wallace has a new and very different offense to learn. Then you get into questions about possible injuries because of the lack of conditioning. If it lasts into the regular season or even into training camp, I would dial back my projections a bit. The promise of the Steelers to not reduce his tender makes me optimistic they are nearing a deal. I could be a bit too cavalier about a significant list of negatives, but I think they will create enough doubt to make him a player to target because others worried.

TheDirtyWord said:

Right out of the bat, let me say this about Mike Wallace. Right now, he is the most feared deep threat in the game. Is he the best...perhaps, but over the past two seasons, no one has been more effective or productive at catching the long ball than Wallace. In the last two seasons, on passes thrown more than 30 yards, Wallace has produced:

19 Receptions
907 Receiving Yards
11 TDs

Keep in mind, these aren't balls that Wallace took to the house on a slant. These are bombs. The problem is that outside of these type of throws, his production in two seasons on passes shorter than 30 yards is:

113 Receptions
1543 Receiving Yards
7 TDs

Teams started to essentially take away the deep ball from the Steelers last season. I don't think it's a coincidence that the emergence of Antonio Brown as a bonafide all-around WR stud came as teams game planned around taking the deep ball away from Wallace. In Wallace's last 9 games, he had but 2 receptions longer than 30 yards. During this same time, Brown went for 44/744/2 or what would amount to a 16 game average of 78/1322/4.

The thing that concerns me about Wallace for 2012 is Brown's TD production. Despite being incredibly productive, he was less than ordinary when converting his production into points. In short, teams were justified in taking away Wallace from the Steelers so long as they funneled the ball to Brown or someone else. Between the 20's, Brown was dynamic. Red zone though...? Not so much and as such, during this time - the Steelers only averaged 18.6 PPG. This after averaging 23.2 PPG the previous 19 games with Big Ben at QB.

Now I get that BB was compromised by injury and an O-Line that simply by the seasons second half was struggling to allow BB to get the deep ball off. But I think that if I'm playing PIT, I'm making Antonio Brown and other roll-up a bunch of points on me, before I adjust my defense that gives Wallace openings to beat me deep again.

Wallace isn't falling off the face of the earth by any means. But I was more bullish on his prospects last off-season than this one (aside from his contract dispute) and I think his ceiling based on his situation no longer is in the 1400-1500 /10 range. That said, if Antonio Brown continues to develop and convert on scoring opportunities, I do think Wallace becomes a nice buy low candidate in October.

Raiderfan32904 said:

Big time receiver with blazing speed and average hands, but still a very dangerous weapon for Pittsburgh. Most will look at the stats and the megabuck contract holdout and assume that Wallace is elite and therefore the #1 wideout. But Antonio Brown is the best overall receiver on the Steelers and I look for him to eat into Wallace's numbers across the board. The O-line got an influx of talent, and the Steelers will be more of a ball control offense than before. Wallace will still be a deep threat, but used less as Brown blossoms and the Steelers pound the rock more. I think Wallace will underperform and I will likely pass on him at his ADP.


Mike Wallace projections

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Steve Holloway781287900
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