Is it possible that Mike Wallace is under-hyped coming into this season?
At first, the notion seems preposterous. Wallace had an excellent rookie season, especially when considering the tendency of rookie WRs to struggle in the NFL. Wallace had six touchdowns. He was an immediate deep threat, averaging an outstanding 19.4 yards per catch (tops in the league for qualifying WRs). He scored high in Football Outsiders metrics — his DVOA (a stat which measures value per play) was fourth among qualifying WRs. He finished in the top 50 in total receiving yardage. He even ran the ball five times for 48 yards.
Now he's stepping into the starting spot vacated by Santonio Holmes, rising up fantasy draft boards and looking like a breakout star.
But somehow, Steeler fans don't seem adequately excited enough about the second season of Wallace. Perhaps there are simply too many other players in the spotlight, due to the Roethlisberger suspension, the return of Polamalu and Aaron Smith on defense, the team's reunion with Randle El, McFadden, Leftwich and Foote, the continued emergence of Mendenhall, and yes, Isaac Redman.
Well, it's time to get psyched for Mike.
Impressive rookie season aside, I think many Steeler fans think of Wallace as a deep threat, and perhaps, little else. That's how we know Wallace at this point. A guy who can go long, get behind the last guy, and finish the play. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that. I don't get the sense Steeler fans are concerned about Wallace replacing Holmes, but it seems like the consensus is "the Steelers will plug him in and they'll be just fine." Perhaps these expectations are too low. Maybe the Steelers will be more than fine.
Maybe Wallace is better than Holmes. Maybe the Holmes trade didn't mean the Steelers were settling on the field — maybe they wanted to move a superior WR into a starting role, and jettisoning Holmes was an easy way to do that. Yes, Holmes' off-field transgressions (and the transgressions of other Steelers) were almost certainly the main reasons for his exit, but there may be other factors in play.
Staying within the realm of Pittsburgh sports, it's possible the Wallace-for-Holmes move will end up like the Nate McLouth trade that cleared the way for McCutchen to start for the Pirates. After his suspension ends, I don't think Holmes will struggle like McLouth has this season (Nate's in the minors), but the result could be the same for Pittsburgh fans: The initial reactions after the trade — "that's all we got?" — fade away after the new player eclipses the former starter.
Really, can you remember the Steelers having a WR more explosive than Wallace? I'm not one to get too worked up about 40 times and raw speed, but Wallace has already proven he can put that speed to good use. He's not Darrius Heyward-Bey.
The concern is that many speedster and deep threat WRs never develop into complete receivers. Which is why I was glad to read this in Peter King's Steeler Camp Postcard for SI.com:
"Mike Wallace, the new starter alongside Ward, worked all offseason on being fast in and out of his cuts, and I watched him do some extra work against corners after practice. He was smoking."
Wallace already has the speed and the talent. Now word comes through that he's really working hard on his cuts, which means he's working on his routes. Route running is probably the most underrated attribute among NFL WRs — running a great route isn't sexy, but it's very, very important. Practice, polish and attention to detail will turn Wallace from a dangerous receiver into a great receiver. There's a possibility that it's already happening. And who better to help him learn these things than Hines Ward?
On top of all this, Wallace rocks a mohawk. Respect.
(And I can't believe I got through this whole column without making a "60 Minutes" joke.)
Phil Dzikiy is a journalist, blogger and Steeler fan, among many other things. Visit him online at phildzikiy.com or follow him on Twitter @phildzikiy, if you're into that sort of thing.