UPDATED: Unbeknownst to me, Phantaskippy posted a FanShot that answer's Neals question: How many other players have had as much success, comparably speaking, as Wallace has in three years? I encourage you to check it out, because what it reveals should cause those ready to trade Wallace for draft picks to pause - do you really want to trade a player of this caliber for an unproven player? . It is linked, here: Mike Wallace's first three years: one of the top receivers since 1990
When Neal published his article: "Report: Mike Wallace to Leave Tender Contract Unsigned" about Adam Schefter's report that Mike Wallace, or his agent, stated that Wallace would not sign his RFA tender, a firestorm broke out on BTSC.
There was much consternation, and gnashing of teeth, as the implications of this report were debated: Was Wallace being greedy? Was he worth the "Fitz" money it has been reported he was seeking. Should the Steelers hold firm with whatever offer they had presented him, or was he worth a contract comparable to Vincent Jackson, or Desean Jackson?
There was much speculation as to whether Wallace would truly sit out, refusing to attend the OTAs, mini-camps, training camp, the regular season.
You can read the rest of the types of speculation that went on in the comments of that article, or in Neal's subsequent article comparing the Wallace scenario with the Santionio Holmes trade here.
In one of Neal's responses to the many comments, he posed the following questions:
How many other players have had as much success, comparably speaking, as Wallace has in three years? How many third-round draft picks nearly get franchised before they're even free agents? What's happening with Wallace wasn't exactly expected; his value is way higher than they drafted him. That just doesn't happen to wide receivers this quickly into their careers.
Being one of the early commenters, my position was that the Steelers should pay Wallace what they could, given their salary cap issues, downstream contract restructuring issues, and their history of not paying top dollar for wide receivers, as well as keeping in mind that whatever terms they agreed to with Wallace, the Steelers could expect to face very similar contract terms when it came time to re-sign Antonio Brown.
But Neal’s question got me to thinking about exactly what do the Steelers have in Mike Wallace, and how special a player is he, really?
Mike Wallace was drafted in the 3rd round (pick #84) out of Ole Miss in the 2009 draft. There were a total of 34 wide receivers taken in the 2009 draft. Here’s the complete list:
Wallace quickly won the hearts and minds of Steeler Nation in his rookie year with his performance against Green Bay, where he made a spectacular game winning catch in the end zone, while falling out of bounds
He ended his rookie year with 39 receptions for 746 yards, 6 TDs, and a League leading 19.4 yards per catch average, which helped him earn the Steelers "Joe Greene Great Performance Award" which is given out each season to the Steelers’ outstanding rookie.
Wallace’s 2010 season was even more productive: 60 receptions for 1,250 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 21 yards per catch average, which was the highest in the AFC.
His 2011 season totals, 72 catches for 1,193 yards, 8 TDs and a 16.6 yard per catch average reflected a season where the common perception is that he tailed off in the second half, for widely debated reasons ranging from key injuries to his QB, the offensive line, the rise of Antonio Brown as a preferred target, or the idea that defenses had figured out that if they played him physically, they could diminish his effectiveness.
However, Wallace also showed in 2011 that he has more than just speed as a deep threat, as illustrated below:
Third quarter, Steelers lead the Seahawks 24-0; its third and long, Ben throws deep to Wallace, who makes this fingertip catch, at full stride, for a 54 yard gain.
But again, exactly how good is Mike Wallace?
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, (PFR) Wallace has a Career Average ranking of 17. Given that this metric is widely used by various other statistical sites (Cold Hard Football Facts considers Pro-Football Reference as "the Bible" of statistical ranking), here's how Wallace ranks with his 2009 wide receiver class:
From this table, we can see that only Percy Harvin, a 1st round pick, ranks higher than Wallace from the 2009 WR draft group; the four other 1st rounders ranked below Wallace, as did 2nd rounder Massaquoi.
The CarAvg score is a weighted average of the player's Approximate Value, which PFR defines as:
"Essentially, AV is a substitute for --- and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion --- metrics like 'number of seasons as a starter' or 'number of times making the pro bowl' or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between. That is, 'number of seasons as a starter' is a reasonable starting point if you're trying to measure, say, how good a particular draft class is, or what kind of player you can expect to get with the #13 pick in the draft. But obviously some starters are better than others. Starters on good teams are, as a group, better than starters on bad teams. Starting WRs who had lots of receiving yards are, as a group, better than starting WRs who did not have many receiving yards. Starters who made the pro bowl are, as a group, better than starters who didn't, and so on. And non-starters aren't worthless, so they get some points too.
The CarAvg score is calculated by taking 100% of a player's best year, 95% of his second best year, etc and includes ratings for the player's individual effort as well as his team's performance.
One of Neal's questions was: How many other players have had as much success, comparably speaking, as Wallace has in three years? So, let's broaden our review of the 2009 draft class to include all players drafted for all positions.
Here we see the top 10 players of the entire 2009 Draft Class in terms of PFR's CarAvg rating:
Wallace has the 5th highest CarAvg rating out of 256 players drafted in 2009 (excluding ties).
Not wanting to rely on just one source for measuring Wallace's true worth, and wanting to get a comparison of Wallace against all active wide receivers in the entire NFL, not just in his draft class, I dug around and found Football Outsider's (FO) Ranking of Wide Receivers in 2011.
Football Outsider has a series of metrics it uses to measure the effectiveness of an offensive player in game situations, not just total yards and number of catches. Here's how they explain their metrics:
For simplicity sake, here's the condensed version of how they define their metrics:
The simple version: DYAR means a wide receiver with more total value. DVOA means a wide receiver with more value per play.
Here's the ranking of the top active receivers in the entire League, regardless of when they were drafted, according to FO. I've condensed their rankings to just DVOA and DYAR to make it easier to assimilate:
DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement):
Wide receivers are ranked according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the performance on plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. DYAR (and its cousin, YAR, which isn't adjusted based on opponent) is further explained here.
DVOA (Defense adjusted Value Over Average):
The other statistic given is DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. DVOA (and its cousin, VOA, which isn't adjusted based on opponent) is further explained here.
In only his third year, Wallace ranks 5th in terms of the value of his performance upon catching a pass (DYAR); compare this to Larry Fitzgerald's ranking of 11th, despite having played 5 more years, or Vincent Jackson's ranking of 14th, despite having played 4 more years. Only one player with equal or less time in the League ranked above Wallace; that was Victor Cruz.
Quite simply, based on these two independent sources of impartial and detailed quantitative statistics, Mike Wallace has every right to thinking big in terms of his next contract.
Wallace has clearly out-performed all wide receivers but Percy Harvin in his draft class by one means of measurement (CarAvg), and ranks 5th overall in comparison to his entire draft class of 256 players.
Wallace ranks higher in terms of measurable quality of his performance (DYAR and DVOA) than two of the receivers whose contracts have set the bar for what it will cost the Steelers, in all fairness, to keep Wallace (that being V. Jackson and L. Fitzgerald).
So what should the Steelers do, finding themselves in a position where their excellence in finding undervalued players in later rounds of the draft has created this situation?
This is a question best left to Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and Omar Khan. They have much more information than we on the outside do, and they have the track record of making the "right" decisions going for them as well (In the F.O. We Trust).
So then, what should we, Steeler Nation, do? All we can do is cross our fingers and hope that the Steelers are able to find a way, without mortgaging their future ability to compensate other players needed for that run to #7, of keeping Mike Wallace. If not, then 2012 will be Mike's swan song (possible pun intended) in a Steeler uniform. Unless of course, the Steelers find room to franchise him next year, but that is grist for another article.