Mike Wallace’s decision to leave Pittsburgh after his fourth NFL season certainly benefitted his bank account, but his production fell off dramatically. After averaging 65 catches, 1,095 yards and almost nine touchdowns a season from 2010 to 2012 Wallace slipped to 60-755-6 as a Dolphin and Viking. And yet there is optimism his return to the AFC North brings with it fantasy potential he has left untapped the past three seasons.
In Pittsburgh Wallace was Ben Roethlisberger’s deep threat, averaging 17 yards per catch and only dipping below 16 in his final year as a Steeler. In Miami he was heavily targeted—a career-best 142 looks in 2013—but averaged just 12.7 and 12.9 yards per catch with Ryan Tannehill at the helm. The trade to Minnesota left him wildly mismatched with Teddy Bridgewater and his numbers dipped to career lows across the board.
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Landing in Baltimore has provided Wallace backers with twin causes for optimism. First, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has one of the stronger arms in the league and should be able to take advantage of Wallace’s primary asset—speed. Moreover, the Ravens aren’t afraid to let Flacco unleash that cannon. The comparison for Wallace is former Raven (and current 49er) Torrey Smith, who during his time in Baltimore averaged a very Wallace-like 16.9 yards per catch.
It’s a facet of the Ravens’ offense that was mostly missing last season. Chris Givens paced the team at 18.2 yards per catch, but he only played in 12 games and caught 19 balls. Steve Smith’s 14.6 yards per catch was respectable, but he only played seven games in 2015. And rookie Breshad Perriman never made it to the field after suffering a knee injury in the preseason.
And that’s another factor working in Wallace’s favor. Perriman is hurt again, and while thus far he has avoided surgery and the team is optimistic we heard the same company line last season leading up to Perriman missing the season. And the ageless Smith is no guarantee to return either, coming off a season shortened by an Achilles’ tendon tear. Givens is no longer on the Baltimore roster, leaving fourth-round pick Chris Moore as Wallace’s primary—perhaps only—competition for the role of deep threat.
Wallace recently told the media he feels he’s a better receiver now than he was in Pittsburgh, and that after being stuck in unfavorable situations he’s looking forward to a fresh start. He admitted that he may have lost a half step over the years, but that those years of experience have made him a smarter receiver. Either way, heading into training camp he’s healthy and should get plenty of reps with Flacco and the first team. And if a deep threat bond develops between Flacco and Wallace while Perriman and/or Steve Smith are working their way back into the mix—and Moore is making the transition from college ball to the NFL—Wallace could pick up Torrey Smith’s mantle as a home run hitter, becoming a top-25 fantasy wideout in the process.