When the Steelers face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, two of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL will be standing on opposite sides of the field.
In the 2009 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders surprised most other NFL teams by selecting Darrius Heyward-Bey, from the University of Maryland, as the first wide receiver chosen in the draft.
Most experts believed that Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was the top receiver in the draft. In only 3 college seasons (compared to 4 by Heyward-Bey), Crabtree had accumulated almost twice as many receptions, and more than 3 times as many career touchdowns (41 versus only 13 for Heyward-Bey).
But as had long been his tendency, Raiders owner Al Davis chose to focus on 40-yard dash speed, rather than tangible receiving skills or on-field production. So Davis got the fastest receiver in the draft. But did he get the best?
Had Davis not been so infatuated with pure speed, he might have actually looked at how the player performed in college. If he had done that, he would have noticed that the wide receiver who ran the second fastest 40 yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine actually had better college statistics than Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 4.30 forty yard time was the fastest of anybody at the Combine. But the second fastest time by a wide receiver was posted by Mike Wallace out of Ole Miss. Wallace ran a blazing 4.33. While it wasn’t as fast as Heyward-Bey’s time, it was still an eye-popping performance.
While Heyward-Bey’s speed earned him the #1 pick among wide receivers, Mike Wallace wasn’t selected until the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wallace was actually the 15th pick of the 3rd round (#84 overall), and he was the 11th wide receiver taken.
Yet if we compare Wallace’s college statistics, they actually compare quite favorably to Heyward-Bey’s.
What must be noted is the Darrius Heyward-Bey played 4 years for Maryland, while Mike Wallace only played 3 years at Ole Miss. Despite having a shorter college career than Heyward-Bey, Mike Wallace almost matched Heyward-Bey’s total yardage (he ended his college career with 179 few yards), and he surpassed his total touchdowns.
But perhaps an even more important statistic for speedsters is their average yards per catch. And in this category, Mike Wallace surpassed Darrius Heyward-Bey by almost 4 yards per catch.
Since entering the pros, the difference between Mike Wallace and Darrius Heyward-Bey has been even more pronounced.
Wallace has shown himself to be a better overall receiver. He has great hands, is a TD threat on every play, and is developing better route running skills. Heyward-Bey, on the other hands has not shown himself to be much of a threat.
Mike Wallace has out-produced Darius Heyward-Bey in almost every way since entering the NFL. Wallace led the NFL in yards per catch as a rookie, and has become a fantasy football darling. Meanwhile, Darius Heyward-Bey could easily be considered to be a bust. Particularly when you consider where he was drafted.
Moreover, because of where he was drafted, Heyward-Bey cost the Raiders far more than Mike Wallace has cost the Steelers.
Hindsight is alway 20/20. If teams had known how good Mike Wallace was going to be, he probably would have been drafted much sooner than he was. Fortunately, the Steelers’ scouting department was able to recognize Wallace’s considerable value.
Since taking over for Santonio Holmes, Wallace has been a touchdown machine. He still isn’t as good as Holmes was at running with the ball in the open field. But he is much faster than Holmes, and his hands seem to be just as dependable as Holmes’ ever were.
I’m sure that most Steelers fans are quite happy with what they’ve got in Mike Wallace. I’m not sure that Raiders fans would say the same about Darrius Heyward-Bey.
If the NFL ever decides to institute competitive 40-yard dash races, then I’ll take Darrius Heyward-Bey. But as long as NFL players are actually required to play football, I’ll take Mike Wallace any day of the week.
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