Spotlight: Mike Wallace

posted by Cecil Lammey on Jun 15th


Cecil Lammey's thoughts

I remember interviewing Mike Wallace at the 2009 Senior Bowl. He was wide eyed being around the best seniors in college football, and commented how the NFL coaching staff was showing him things he'd never worked on at Ole Miss. Wallace proved that he belonged in that game, and was a standout during practice because of his speed. The coaches sparked something inside of him and Wallace didn't take long to make an impression in Steelers training camp.

Last season Wallace looked like a polished veteran even though he was just a rookie. With Nate Washington gone to Tennessee, Wallace stepped in as the slot receiver and upgraded the position. In a week 3 game against Cincinnati Wallace proved how valuable he could be, catching 7 passes (on 8 targets) for 102 yards. His speed allows him to get on top of a defense in a hurry, and he became Ben Roethlisberger's favorite deep target.

He would love to improve on the numbers from his rookie season, but things have changed for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Roethlisberger will miss at least the first four games of the season for violating the league's code of conduct policy, and should be replaced in the lineup by Byron Leftwich - who returns after one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Santonio Holmes was traded to the New York Jets this offseason for a fifth-round pick, and Wallace will now step into the starting lineup opposite Hines Ward. Many expect the Steelers to go back to 'Steelers Football' and become a more run-heavy offense featuring Rashard Mendenhall. All of this adds up to a much different looking Steelers team in 2010.

Last year, Mike Wallace had a solid start to his career (39 receptions, 756 yards and 6 TDs), which ranked him as the 28th best fantasy WR in 2009. His current ADP is WR27, so many are expecting only a slight improvement in production - but why? Let's take a closer look at Mike Wallace to see if the expected improvement is warranted.

Questions about Mike coming into 2010:

Will he be more productive now that he's the #2 receiver?

Even with the new direction of the offense he should be. Last year Santonio Holmes had 138 targets, while Hines Ward had 136, and Wallace had 72. He will see an increase in targets now that Holmes has been shipped to the Jets. Wallace could see as many as 85-95 targets this season. Holmes had 5 receiving touchdowns, and those will now be distributed to other receivers in Pittsburgh. Wallace isn't going to see all of those touchdowns go his way, but could add another touchdown or two to his season total.

Will the Steelers commitment to the run game limit his production?

This new philosophy may be the biggest thing that holds Wallace back from getting 100+ targets on the season. The Steelers want to take the ball out of the hands of the quarterback, and lean on the ground game. This is a throwback to old school Steelers football. Run the ball, and play great defense is the new mantra for Pittsburgh. Byron Leftwich is likely going to be the starter while Ben Roethlisberger is suspended, and the Steelers will certainly run the ball more while Big Ben is out. When Roethlisberger comes back we'll see how he takes this new philosophy. We're not expecting the Steelers to change much once Roethlisberger comes back. The quarterback play should be better, but they'll still want to pound opposing teams into submission with Rashard Mendenhall.

Is there anyone on the roster who can compete with him for the starting job?

The Steelers added several wide receivers, both through free agency and the draft. Antwaan Randle-El returns to Pittsburgh after a four-year stint with the Redskins. He should take over as the slot receiver, and could run a few gadget plays here and there. Arnaz Battle comes over from the 49ers, but should be a better addition for special teams than the receiving corps. Emmanuel Sanders was selected in the third-round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and could develop into a fine slot receiver in the near future. Sanders has great speed (like Wallace) and is fearless when running routes over the middle. He should learn the ropes this year as a reserve player. Antonio Brown was added in the draft as well. The sixth-round pick has good hands and route running ability, but should be used more as a return man than a receiver during his rookie season. Bottom line, this is Wallace's job to lose. There isn't a player on the Steelers roster that could challenge Wallace for the second spot.

Will playing without Ben Roethlisberger hurt his numbers early in the season?

Missing Roethlisberger could certainly hurt the entire passing game over the first four weeks (at least) of the season. Byron Leftwich is a savvy veteran, but has to develop chemistry with Mike Wallace. Leftwich was in Tampa last year during Wallace's rookie season, and we'll have to see how long it takes them to earn each other's trust. Two things work in favor of this relationship - 1) Leftwich still has a cannon for an arm. 2) Wallace has crazy speed to get on top of a defense. Leftwich isn't afraid to air out deep passes, and Wallace can't outrun the veteran quarterback's arm (even though he can outrun the defense.) Again, it's more the new philosophy in Pittsburgh than it is the talent on offense.

How can Wallace avoid a sophomore slump?

Wallace is known as a hard worker, and should do everything under his power to insure he doesn't have a sophomore slump. He needs to work on his chemistry with Byron Leftwich, and continue to get open deep even though he'll be facing better coverage this year.

Positives

  • Great downfield speed
  • Gets off the line and into his routes smoothly
  • Good deep threat on play action passes

Negatives

  • Could have targets go down due to Steelers rededication to the run game
  • Will face better coverage as a starting receiver
  • Uncertain quarterback situation

Final thoughts

The Steelers are looking to be a more run-heavy team this year featuring RB Rashard Mendenhall. It's the new philosophy that will keep Mike Wallace from making a huge leap forward. He could certainly outperform his ADP (WR27) but it's unlikely that he breaks into the top 20. We see Wallace as more of a top 25 fantasy wide receiver this year. Pittsburgh is hopeful that Wallace can build on the progress he showed during his rookie season and fill in for Santonio Holmes as a trusted starting wide receiver. In order for Wallace to do that he'll have to consistently get open against better coverage now that he's the #2 wideout.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Bird said:

Logically, with the Roethlisberger suspension, we want to believe that Pittsburgh will just run more like they did in other previous years. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, they no longer have the same dominating defense that they had in those years. Teams can score on Pittsburgh and they need to score many points to compete. Pittsburgh is built to pass the football and Wallace steps into a role with increased opportunity.

rzrback77 said:

Mike Wallace performed in 2009 far above what most expected from him. The third round pick wound up playing a prominent role in the Steeler's offense by essentially sharing the role of the third option in the passing attack with Heath Miller. He tied Ward and Miller with 6 TD receptions. There are some positive and negative factors to consider moving forward to 2010.

The leader in team targets, Santonio Holmes is gone and although not yet featured much, Limas Sweed is also out of the picture with injury. The remaining options are primarily possession receivers, Heath Miller, Hines Ward and the RBs. Mike Wallace should have even more involvement in the passing attack and will be the primary long option. As a rookie, he averaged a team high 19.4 yards per reception.

He will be handicapped by Roethlisberger's suspension, whether four or six games. He could be a great early season trade target as he should post much improved statistics after Ben returns as his arm will offer much more hope for long balls than any one of his temporary replacements.

Pittsburgh could reduce the number of pass attempts somewhat this year as well, but with the losses at WR, this should not impact Wallace over his targets from a year ago. Interesting to note as his current ADP is 83 overall and WR 29, just after Santonio Holmes. I think that as the season approaches, this number could drop as the focus on missing Roethlisberger will overshadow Wallace's potential. Wallace finished his rookie year as WR 28 in FBG (non-ppr) scoring, so he should be a bargain going any later than the current ADP.

Ministry of Pain said:

Hi rzrback77,

I love your posts in these player threads but I really disagree here. Wallace had no one covering him while he was running 3rd behind Ward and Holmes. Santonio gone is going to have an impact because he could stetch the defense out a lot and allow for some underneath stuff to develop more. Pitt has to get Emmanuel Sanders up to speed. They lost Limas Sweed for the season(not a big deal), and they have guys like AWE on the roster who I think we've seen has a ceiling as to what he can do.

I like Wallace but he will be facing much tougher DBs this year and he has Lefty throwing the ball for at least 4 games this year. It will take Ben a few weeks to get going and by the time these two get on the same page, you might be 8 games into the season and hurting because you took this guy too high.

Multiple Scores said:

Overrated? I don't think so. The people calling him overrated are usually the people who call him a 1 trick pony who goes deep for long bombs. I know where people get this impression, it is people who didn't watch any Steelers games and have watched NFLN coverage of Big Ben and his problems and are watching the backdrop showing Big Ben highlights and they show plenty of long bombs to Wallace. I'm not sure why people feel the need to give opinions on a player who they've never watched play and proceed to call them overrated and one trick ponies.

This guy does it all, long, short, intermediate, over the middle, tip toe side line catches, breaks tackles, catches in the clutch. His stat line could have looked even better if Big Ben didn't underthrow him on deep routes although Wallace did come back to the ball many times. He will be the number one option in Pittsburgh very soon, for this season I see him and Hines pretty close though. I don't see the first 4-6 games as bad as others do with Pittsburgh running the ball so much, a couple of games that Ben will miss the Steelers will get behind and Wallace will benefit from garbage time.


Mike Wallace projections

RECRECYDRECTDRSHYDRSHTD
Cecil Lammey55905600
Message board consensus60925600