Mike Wallace losing millions every game
Saying Mike Wallace’s name is probably enough to get a grimace from most Pittsburgh Steelers fans, if not a full-out diatribe. It is a hole Mike Wallace has dug for himself, though. From promising rookie, to rising star, to possibly being exposed as a one-trick pony has Mike Wallace earned the criticism he deserved?
Last year Mike Wallace started out fantastically and then fell off the map near the second half of the season. In the preseason he had predicted a 2,000 yard season, which would obviously be huge (it would be 150 yards greater than Jerry Rice’s record season, or roughly what you could expect if Rice had played 17 games). However, through seven games he was on a very respectable 1670 yard pace which would put him around 7th on the all-time list. However, since that time, Wallace has averaged around 52 yards per game, which is far from elite.
In the offseason, there was the contract situation, which was covered ad nauseam. One interesting thing, though, was a leak that Mike Wallace was seeking Larry Fitzgerald-level money. This was never directly attributed to coming from Wallace, though, so there is some doubt behind it. It was obvious that Mike Wallace was not likely to be worth Fitzgerald’s pay level because he lacks some skills that Fitzgerald has; while he is definitely faster than Fitzgerald, he does not have the hands, the route running ability and the two biggest differences are toughness and jump ball skills (two areas Wallace rates quite poorly in).
Given that, what is Wallace worth? Well, before this season the answer was certainly higher. However, with each game Wallace is displaying one glaring weakness he had not in the past, as well as having another weakness exacerbated by the scrutiny. In terms of toughness, Wallace has never had it. He has never excelled at jump balls or balls caught in traffic. The area that is becoming worrisome, though, is drops. Wallace never displayed a great number of drops before, however it is the area that wide receivers, for obvious reasons, cannot afford to see falter.
Additionally, in terms of players with at least 38 catchable targets (82 total players) football outsiders ranks Mike Wallace No. 79 in terms of his overall value to the team, with a highly negative value (interestingly enough, Fitzgerald grades out dead last on this metric). This essentially means that a replacement receiver should be able to have produced better than Mike Wallace given the opponents and situations he has been playing through.
However, all of these stats don’t say as much as the eye-test. On that test Mike Wallace is currently failing. Mike Wallace is a terrible jump-ball receiver. However, beyond that is a lack of effort to fight for a ball. At times it looks like Wallace is not willing to potentially injure himself digging a ball out or going all out in traffic for a catch. It’s impossible to say if that’s true, and Wallace has to deal with the specter of Hines Ward in Steelers minds who never gave an inch let alone letting an entire play go without busting his rump. Wallace is being graded on an impossible level, though. Being expected to play at a toughness level never before seen puts him in a tough spot. However, Wallace is doing nothing to help his case.
The short of it is that with all but the Tennessee and Oakland games this season, Mike Wallace has performed below the line and ultimately has cost himself some serious cash. The result of that is a receiver who is struggling mentally as much as anything right now and for that reason is becoming much maligned. The Steelers and Wallace’s needs right now are the same, a big game with a touchdown or two. If Wallace can do that it would certainly improve the Steelers situation and may get him on track for a big pay-day. As it stands now, Wallace will still get paid. Wallace has one of the few things that cannot be taught: speed. And that speed is the best in the NFL. However, the difference between big money and elite money for Wallace may be as simple as one big game to end his current funk. What level of receiver Wallace turns out to be may be decided in the next five games.
Chris Patterson is an NFL writer for TPF and can be contacted at CPatterson@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com.