Commentary

Next steps for Mike Wallace

The Steelers WR leads the league in yards per catch, but can he keep it up?

Updated: December 2, 2010, 9:59 AM ET
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders
Mike WallaceAP Photo/Keith SrakocicMike Wallace is having another outstanding season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In July, we at Football Outsiders named Steelers wideout Mike Wallace the top prospect in all of football, following in the footsteps of the receiver we named as the No. 1 prospect in football before his breakout season: Miles Austin. Wallace's numerous big plays as a rookie and top-five ranking in our DVOA metric led us to believe that he could be the next Austin.

Wallace has blazed a different path. Instead of being the next Austin, he's been the next, well, Mike Wallace. With five games still to go in the 2010 season, he's already produced a supercharged version of his rookie year. After catching 39 passes for 756 yards last year, he's at 36 catches for 792 yards this season. After catching 56 percent of his passes a year ago, he's at 58 percent this year. And after leading qualifying receivers with 19.4 yards per catch last year, he's doing the same thing this year with a league-high 22.0 yards per catch. That's happened only twice in the past 25 years.

So with a unique statistical profile in the books, what kind of receiver can we expect Wallace to become? Is he likely to become a star, or do receivers with track records like Wallace struggle to become No. 1 wideouts? We won't know the answer for a few more years, but we can look at the career paths of similar receivers from the past to figure out whether Wallace is well-suited for success or poised to disappoint.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.