April 02, 2018
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed wide receiver Mike Wallace in free agency, they didn't just find a replacement for the outgoing Torrey Smith.
In my view, they found an upgrade.
To get myself a little more familiar with Wallace's skill set, I watched all of his targets in 2017, and cut them up in the video below. Give it a watch, and then I'll make some observations thereafter:
• As you could see, the video starts off a little rough. Wallace wasn't nearly as good in the first half of the season as he was in the second half. That showed up both in his play, and in the stat sheet:
|1st half of the season (7 games)||16||248||15.5||1|
|2nd half of the season (8 games)||36||500||13.9||3|
Over his career, if you look at his splits, Wallace often has very good Decembers. For an Eagles team that is likely to be a Super Bowl contender again in 2018, a player who saves his best for the end of the season is ideal.
• Wallace is a deep threat, clearly, as he was able to get behind the defense for a number of big plays in 2017. The Ravens should have also connected on plenty of other opportunities in which Wallace got open vertically, but he was the victim of several off-target deep throws by Joe Flacco.
Despite the missed opportunities, Wallace has nine receptions of 40 or more yards over the last two seasons. The Eagles, as a team, have just 14 over that same span.
• In 2017, Torrey Smith saw an average cushion from opposing defensive backs of 7.4 yards. That was the biggest average cushion in the NFL, according to the NFL’s NextGen stats. Oftentimes if an opposing defense doesn’t respect a player’s ability to beat them over the top, they will play a lot of press against them. Conversely, if you’re a deep threat, but ineffective running shorter routes underneath, you’ll face your share of off coverage. Opposing defenses respected Smith's speed, and dared him to beat them on shorter routes.
Wallace’s short-to-intermediate skills are better than Smith’s. Opposing defenses will not be able to play as far off against him as they did with Smith, which is significant in explaining why Wallace is a better deep threat.
• When Wallace made plays down the field, it was when he was able to gain separation. He was not nearly as effective making contested catches on deep balls.
• Wallace's hands are just OK. He had two bad drops last season – one on a deep ball, and one on a pass that got through his hands in traffic on a third down. He had several other non-catches that could have perhaps been catches. I phrase it that way because it's debatable whether or not you would call some of them drops.
On the other hand, he also made a number of catches that you would not reasonably expect a receiver to make. For example, his one-handed touchdown grab against the Packers was obviously a terrific catch, and I have no idea how he didn’t drop the ball when he was blown up by a Bengals safety on the sideline. Ultimately, that catch did not count because the hit prohibited his second foot from landing in bounds, but the fact that he held onto the ball was remarkable.
• He’s a better route runner than I anticipated, as the video shows on a few circumstances. He knows how to set up defenders and get them to guess what route he is running incorrectly, which leads to ample separation. He also has an understanding of how to gear down and post up against zone defense.
• He isn’t much of a yards after the catch guy, or at least he wasn’t in 2017. He had some opportunities in the open field, but doesn’t make many defenders miss, and doesn’t break many tackles.
• He showed some headiness against the Steelers, breaking up a pair of interception opportunities.
• I like his toughness. He took two big shots in the regular season finale against the Bengals, and not only stayed in the game, but continued to be a big factor in the second half of that game, scoring a go-ahead touchdown that nearly got the Ravens into the playoffs. Also, just generally speaking, he seems unafraid to work the middle of the field.
One of the more obvious takeaways in watching Wallace was how crappy the Ravens' offense was in 2017. They were 28th in passing yards, and dead last in yards per pass attempt. In Baltimore's offense, Wallace was easily the most effective weapon in the passing attack, as his supporting cast consisted of a 37-year old Benjamin Watson, a declining Jeremy Maclin, and um, that's basically it.
In Philadelphia, he'll be fourth in the pecking order behind Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor, as well as a beneficiary of a far superior rushing attack. He will be more of a complementary piece than a focus of the offense, which should suit his strengths at this stage of his career.
At a minimum, I came away from this exercise convinced that Wallace is a clear upgrade over Smith. If he can stay healthy, Wallace will make more plays down the field than Smith did, which will benefit Ertz, Jeffery, Agholor, and most importantly, Carson Wentz, by opening up the intermediate areas of the field.
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