(Photo by NJ.com)
In his first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, receiver Mike Wallace averaged 1010 yards and 17.2 yards per catch, a true symbol that defines his speed instead of his reported 4.33 40-yard dash. After coming off a slightly disappointing but productive 862-yard fifteen-game season in 2012, Wallace cashed in free agency with the Miami Dolphins before heading into a territory of uncertainty.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was a younger promising quarterback that came off a 12:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio rookie year where the Dolphins finished 7-9. Except, with an element of his game left uncorrected, Wallace was set to struggle.
Tannehill averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt and completed no passes over 40 yards in 2013. The two had some rocky times complemented with some highlights. But with Tannehill set to average the same yards per attempt for the next two years and conflicts occurring with then head coach Joe Philbin, the veteran receiver was finished in South Florida. He along with a seventh-round draft pick was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round pick. However, when you would think that the Vikings would learn history before repeating it, a carbon copy of Wallace’s Dolphins career and more bleakness took place in the Twin Cities.
Similar to Tannehill, Teddy Bridgewater was coming off a rookie season where the Vikings finished 7-9 and had a 14:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but was flawed with downfield throws. He averaged just 7.3 yards per attempt and only completed one of ten passes for over 40 yards in 2014. With Wallace being used to Ben Roethlisberger completing 33.3 percent of the same passes in their last year together, Wallace’s days in Pittsburgh look more like a distant memory.
From 2013 to 2015, he averaged just 12.7 yards per catch and 755 yards per season (896 with the Dolphins). His state of football hell was so bleak at one point in Minnesota, he not only failed to achieve 500 yards receiving (473 in 2015) but was only involved in the offense 7.5 percent of the time.
Once Blair Walsh ended the Vikings season with a 27-yard field goal miss, Wallace’s career in Minnesota concluded too. He was left with little to no offers until the Baltimore Ravens came calling. Luckily for him, he was given a contract with a $3.5 million salary in 2016, and even luckier to have a union with a quarterback that could suit his strengths.
Known for having a big arm since his days at the University of Delaware, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has helped many of the league’s fastest pass catchers become more visible in real time. Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and even tight end Todd Heap have caught between 14 and 18 yards per catch, and with Flacco needing a deep threat after Breshad Perriman’s health was left in question, Wallace has not only benefited but improved Flacco’s vertical passing game.
Throughout his career, Flacco has never completed more than 31.3 percent of his passes for over 40 yards. With Wallace currently, he completing an unbelievable 42.9 percent of such passes and it helps that Wallace is tied for the second-most plays of at least 40 yards in the NFL, five.
With him being 16 yards away from reaching his first 1000-yard season in five years, it will be a special moment for someone whose potential was likely ruled out unfairly. But it will not be as special as it will be for a player that could be playing his final NFL game after being doubted his whole life and might be bound for the Hall of Fame, Wallace’s running mate Steve Smith.