Mike Wallace Sucks. I hear that everywhere. Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, church. Ok, that’s not fair, I only assume they talk about it in church, but you get the picture. Wallace has had a slow and meticulous fall from grace after chasing free agent money out of Pittsburgh to Miami and then Minnesota. His stats have fallen from place to place and have hit rock bottom in Minnesota, where the former fantasy darling finished 2016 with only 72 targets and 39 catches for 473 yards and 2 TDs. Ouch.
As is always the case, as performance wanes, expectations wane. Wallace’s ADP is currently in the 12th round and he ranks as around the 50th WR taken. I’m here to tell you to take him there. By the 12th round you’re looking for players with low expectations that could exceed those expectations. Wallace is the very definition of that player. With the move to Baltimore and preseason injuries to overcome by Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, Wallace is in prime position to bounce back. Wait, wait…put the remote down. I know you think I’m crazy, but don’t change the channel just yet.
There are three main forces that are driving Wallace’s value up while his expectations are exceedingly low. Those three forces are the move to Baltimore, Joe Flacco his new quarterback and injuries to his WR teammates. Let’s go through each briefly. Minnesota’s pass offense last year was dreadful. I mean like John Travolta in Battlefield Earth dreadful. WRs in that offense had 148 receptions for 1,916 yards and 6 TDs. Total. For the team. That put them 31st in the league for WR performance out of 32 teams. For comparison, Antonio Brown had 118 receptions for 1,626 yards and 12 TDs last year by himself. Needless to say, for Wallace that comparison stings on many levels. Minnesota’s pass offense was a very bad scene.
When you start peeling the onion though, Wallace had 72 of the possible 239 WR targets in Minnesota, good for 30% of the targets. If Wallace had stayed in Minnesota that wouldn’t bode so well for him, but he didn’t, he’s now in Baltimore. By comparison, Baltimore’s WRs finished with 373 targets to Minnesota’s 239 last year. If Baltimore has as many targets this year and Mike Wallace gets 30% of them, that’s 112 targets. Wallace’s last year in Miami he had 115 targets and finished with 67 receptions for 862 yards and 10 TDs, which represents almost double the yards and five times the TDs. Considering Baltimore’s Offensive Coordinator is pass happy Marc Trestman, it’s entirely possible 373 target may be available in Baltimore this year. If Wallace gets 30%, which is a relatively low number by the way for a top WR, it’s mathematically impossible for him not to bounce back to a more normal rate of production. Even if Baltimore runs more and there are less WR targets, it’s likely that Wallace’s percentage of targets goes up a bit to compensate. Either way, this is a much better situation for Wallace.
The second issue to consider is Joe Flacco. Flacco is a strong-armed pocket passer very much in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger, the QB with which Mike Wallace had the most success. Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater are good young QBs no doubt, but they are not gunslingers like Big Ben and Flacco. In hindsight, it seems obvious why Wallace’s numbers went down. A combination of weak-armed quarterbacking and poor offensive schemes in Miami and Minnesota doomed him. It should seem just as obvious that Wallace won’t have that issue in Baltimore. He has a QB that plays to his strengths. He has a pass-happy offensive coordinator. These factors cannot and should not be discounted as the season approaches.
Finally, we have to consider the depth chart in Baltimore. Steve Smith is the alpha dog, but he’s 37 years old and coming off of an Achilles’ rupture. Smith has yet to participate in practices this offseason and there is no timetable for his return. Does this sound like a WR who’s going to light it up this year? Then there’s Breshad Perriman who is now on his second straight debilitating injury in the offseason that will keep him off the field for most, if not all of 2016. Even if he gets on the field, it would be his first live NFL action and again, it’s hard to see him being the focal point of this passing game. So, now we’re left with Kamar Aiken and Mike Wallace as the healthy options to start on this roster. Rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds along with Michael Campanaro add depth, but it would be shocking to see any of those three break out in 2016. Aiken had a breakout year last year and truth be told, while he doesn’t have the name recognition, it would not surprise me to see him succeed again this year. Wallace has the name recognition and the opportunity to be Flacco’s main deep threat as well as anchor in this passing game while Steve Smith rounds into form early in the year. Let’s not be too ambitious, I doubt Wallace will have an elite season, but even if he has the kind of success that he had in Miami, that’s potential for WR2 quality that you’re buying at a WR4/5 price.
I understand why Wallace’s star has faded. He has not met expectations for four years now and most people are tired of waiting. The crowd has capitulated on him but fantasy championships are not won by being part of the crowd! When the market has dropped 50%, that’s the time to buy, not the time to sell. Wallace is 29 years old, which is still in the prime production window for WRs. His athleticism has yet to wane and he’s in a much better situation than he was in Minnesota and in Miami. Utilize the current low value of Wallace to pick him up late and fortify your roster depth. Barring injury, you’ll be happy you did.
Full Disclosure: I wrote this for the Fake Football writing contest. It was fun. I didn’t win. Read into that what you will!