Mike Wallace: the Most Productive WR in the NFL?

(Note: Steelers Lounge commenter Easy Like Sunday Morning sent me an email last week about a possible post idea on Mike Wallace’s awesomeness. I floated the email by JJ since he’s Wallace’s No. 1 fan here at SL and he made a good suggestion: let’s just run ELSM’s email. So that’s what we’re doing. ELSM fleshed out his original idea, added some tables and here it is.

We want to thank him for taking the time and I should note that this was supposed to be on the site earlier this week and it’s my fault that it didn’t go up till Saturday.  One more thing: click on the tables below to make them readable, and you can see ELSM’s data here. Let’s get to it…)

By Easy Like Sunday Morning
How good has Mike Wallace been as a starter?  A very strong case can be made that Wallace has been the most productive wide receiver in the NFL since the beginning of the 2010-2011 season.

According to Football Outsiders’ stats, in 2010, Wallace was #1 in DYAR and #1 in DVOA.  After his record-breaking performance last week, Wallace is again #1 in both DYAR and DVOA in 2011.

Football Outsiders’ stats are compelling, but acronyms like DYAR and DVOA haven’t yet penetrated the consciousness of even many of the most serious fans as much as traditional stats have.  Wallace, though, has also been the most productive wide receiver based on many conventional stats, too.  A few examples (with all stats from ESPN for 2010-2011 and for 2011-2012 through this past week):

1) Wallace is #1 in total receiving yards at 1987.

2) Wallace is #2 in yards per catch at 20.7 behind DeSean Jackson’s 21.3.  However, while Wallace has been targeted only 10 more times than Jackson, he has 25 more catches and 7 more TDs.  Wallace catches many more of the passes thrown his way than Jackson does, with a 13.2% higher rate in catches per target (at 63.6% for Wallace vs. 50.4% for Jackson).

3) Wallace leads the NFL at an astounding 13.2 yards per times targeted.  Jackson is second at 10.7.  If you can imagine a quarterback leading the league in yards per attempt by almost 2.5 yards, you realize how amazing this is.  By comparison, Calvin Johnson has a very respectable 8.8 yards per target but this is still more than 4.3 yards less than Wallace.

4) Wallace is #2 in catches per times targeted.  When you take into account how many of his catches are bombs, Wallace simply catches a huge percent of the balls thrown his way.  He has great hands, which get overshadowed by his otherworldly speed. The only WR ahead of him in catches per times targeted is Wes Welker and Welker only averages 11.9 yards per catch.  This is like a home run hitter having a comparable batting average to a singles hitter.  Since we’re in the middle of the World Series, I’ll stretch the baseball analogy a bit more and say that Welker is performing like an Ichiro-type player and Wallace is performing like a Pujols-type player.  Comparing Wallace to Pujols may not be much of an exaggeration, as according to Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders and ESPN, Wallace is already a historic home run hitter: “When you’re talking about the deep ball, it’s not enough to compare Wallace to his contemporaries. He already stacks up with some of the greatest names in history.”

5) Wallace’s total catches and number of times targeted is second lowest among the top 15 receivers.  That means his productivity per times targeted and per catch are both terrific.  In other words, he doesn’t need the ball all the time to be incredibly productive.  He gets his great plays but leaves space in the offense for the Steelers other skill players on offense to get their touches, too.  His personality means that he’ll never be yelling “throw me the damn ball,” even though he has a much better argument than Keyshawn Johnson ever did for being targeted more.

6) Wallace leads the league in first downs per times targeted at an incredible 49.7%.  Throw the ball his way and about half the time you get a new set of downs (or a TD).

7) His TDs per times targeted is also great at 9.9%, third in the league behind only Megatron (10.8%) and Dwayne Bowe (10.3%).  He’s tied for fourth in receiving TDs with 15, and the players ahead of him have been targeted many more times: Megatron (53 more targets, 7 more TDs), Bowe (33 more targets, 4 more TDs) and Greg Jennings (32 more targets, 2 more TDs).

8) And, finally, everyone knows that Wallace is a great deep threat.  He leads the league in catches longer than 20 yards, with 37.  I believe Wallace also leads the league in catches of 40+ yards over these two seasons, with one source he led the league with 10 catches of 40+ yards last year; but since ESPN doesn’t include this among their stats, I excluded it for consistency.

Note that I haven’t called Wallace the “best” receiver in the NFL, as this could mean 10 different things to 10 different people (as the comments following an article comparing Wallace to Megatron show).  The definition of productivity can also be debated but I think it is somewhat more straightforward.  Across a wide variety of statistics, Wallace is the most productive or one of the most productive in the NFL since he became a starter at the beginning of last season.  As Steelers fans, we are lucky to be able to watch Wallace’s historic run.

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  • Mike L

    So letting Holmes go so Wallace could flourish was a good idea?

    • Joel Miller

      In a word: yes.  Could you imagine the salary cap issues if we were trying to pay him too?

  • Hoffstra323

    forget about the numbers, he needs to make some big catches in some big games. He can start against new england.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      I didn’t include postseason stats. But Wallace’s TD in the Super Bowl (along with ARE’s 2-point conversion) made it a 3-point game late. That was a big catch in a big game.

  • Anonymous

    Three or four months ago, there were people who actually wanted the Steelers to work out Plex.  I didn’t understand it then and looking at it from here it is hard to believe.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      Israel, you used to calculate Ben’s QB rating. Do you think it would be possible to calculate sort of a WR rating for Wallace, using the same stats (so QB rating on balls thrown to Wallace)? I think we’d need a source to INTs when Ben (and Batch) have targeted Wallace.

      • Anonymous

        I have a list of all Mike’s receptions through the end of last year, including who threw which or them.  I stopped compiling because I couldn’t quite figure what to do with it.  I thought about it briefly when your piece came out and will give it a think during the week. (Seems to me there are better sources than me for this kind of thing.)

        Also, what is important here is comparison to other receivers which is more than I want to mess with.

        Ben’s stats, which I’m still compiling, exist largely for real-time purposes.  I haven’t been posting and I’m not sure who besides you has noticed.

        I haven’t had the patience lately to post on SL during the game and have pretty much dropped out of HSS.

        • bengt

          You are far from the only one to have dropped out from HSS. In fact, I think I still am the last person to post there, several months ago. ;-)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    I just don’t know how they are going to be able to pay him next year.

    • Anonymous

      They will find a way. More problematic is keeping Brown and Sanders as well, when the time comes.