A pattern is beginning to develop on the flanks of the Steelers' offense. No, I'm not talking about the outline of face masks bruised into Ben's kidneys, those have been there for a while now. I'm talking about the team's ability to manufacture talent in their receiving core with Henry Ford's own efficiency. It's Next Man Up to the fourth power -- or it will be if Markus Wheaton can step up.
We knew he was leaving, but it didn't seem like signing Plax and drafting a mid-round replacement was going to cut it.
But, there is a plan in place.
And it may become a trend.
Wallace was a relatively unknown 3rd rounder. Sanders too. And Colbert all but pulled Brown out from behind your ear. Or perhaps another orifice altogether. The front office seems to be on a roll with this succession of lean tachophiles (the good kind of speed freak) earning close to the league minimum. Wallace will be missed, if only for the threat inherent in his star power, but it isn't as if Wheaton has big shoes to fill if you're looking at last year's numbers. Wallace finished 2012 with the worst performance of his career. The standard stats don't look too bad:
64 catches, 846 yards and 8 TDs
But those aren't the pulse-lurching numbers we're used to seeing next to his name. And if you use the admittedly unactualized realm of advanced stats to guide you, you may find yourself relating, yet again, to the seesaw plight of Aaron Paul. For the 2012 season, Football Outsiders has him ranked 80th of 86 WRs in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement - minimum of 50 passes) and 79th of 86 in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average - minimum of 50 passes). Wallace is an excellent receiver, as evidenced by these stats from previous seasons. He ranked 5th and 8th on those lists in 2011 and was the number one overall receiver on both the year before. Basically, last year the Steelers got the Godafther III Mike Wallace and the dude wanted Pacino money. Black & Gold -- Orange & Teal.
The 2013 receiving corps will be defined by heir-apparent Antonio Brown and how well Emmanuel Sanders and Wheaton fall in line. Topping last year's group won't be as hard as it may seem -- considering Wallace's actual production. Brown and Sanders have another year of experience in Haley's system and Wheaton has been encouraging. It's not like they are expecting a younger, cheaper 2010 Mike Wallace out of the rookie. He needs to be thrown into the blast furnace and forged into an I-beam. You don't just pull those right out of the ground.
Regardless, it's starting to look like a revolving door in Pittsburgh.
It could be argued that Sanders is the third receiver that the team has developed into a commodity -- as we learned this off season when the MENSA Football Club took a shot at scooping him up. Regardless of how Sanders flickers against the bony cavern of your skull, there is beginning to be enough evidence to notice a pattern. Grab a quick-twitch greenhorn for pennies on the dollar and run him ragged until he gets expensive. Then cut 'em loose. You know, like corporations and 35 year-olds. They may not nail it temporally every time like they have with Wallace, but it's a clever strategy when you have squeeze something out of every penny. Which means, Sanders might be next to go -- if Wheaton can hang. Other teams may not be able to afford not to mimic the Steelers in this relatively original practice. It's just too indulgent to invest so much of a capped budget in a long-term deal on a position whose characters fluctuate more than a CAPTCHA. And if Sanders becomes a superstar this year and some team wants to give him and island in the Keys as a signing bonus in the near future, it'll be a somber goodbye. Like Mike's. But in the end, the team knows what it's doing.
Once is a fluke.
Twice is a happy coincidence.
But three or four times? Ben should have plenty of capable guys to target -- if he's still able to see straight.
Just imagine if they could do this with offensive lineman.
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- Tomlin concerned with Locker's mobility
- Steelers start/sit Fantasy Football advice: Give Isaac Redman a look in Week 1
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- Matt Spaeth placed in IR-Designation to Return, Steelers activate OLB Terence Garvin from Practice Squad
- Recently acquired Zoltan Mesko will be new holder for Shaun Suisham and Steelers
- Steelers coach Tomlin talks about irrelevancy of preseason and depth charts
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- Tomlin: Heath Miller Day-to-Day