Does Wallace stack up to elite deep threats?

Mike Wallace has the reputation as a deep threat. What do the numbers say about Wallace’s deep-threat ability, his catch-rate success and his comparison to the top deep threats?

The first take on the trade that brought Mike Wallace to the Vikings is that the team essentially swapped salary-cap hits with Greg Jennings for a player that can give Teddy Bridgewater a weapon the Vikings haven’t had in years – a player capable of demanding double coverage deep down the field.

Wallace was a huge deep threat with the Steelers, thanks in no small part to Ben Roethlisberger extending plays and launching deep passes to him. It got him paid.

However, it got him paid to go to Miami, where he was asked to be a No. 1 guy with deep threat ability.

He did just that. He was a go-to guy and brought deep threat ability – even though his two-year stint with Ryan Tannehill was fraught with a young QB getting his legs under him.

When it comes to a quarterback building his professional résumé, there is something to be said for the guy he counts on most. Christian Ponder didn’t have one. Matt Cassel didn’t either. Bridgewater may have one in Wallace.

In 2014, Wallace was targeted 108 times. Of those, 71 of the passes were deemed as catchable – someone has to be targeted with every pass to make the numbers balance out of pass attempts, but often passes are thrown away and the closest player to the pass is the target. Of those, Wallace caught 67 of them. His four drops represented a drop rate per 100 passes of 5.63, which ranked him 18th in the NFL last season.

That was a vast improvement over 2013, his first season with Miami. In that year, he dropped 11 of 84 passes that were passes that could have been caught – a drop rate of a whopping 13.1 percent – the fifth-worst drop rate of any receiver with more than 85 targets.

What made his improvement in 2014 so markedly different was that quarterback Ryan Tannehill, while a year more experienced, was operating behind a patchwork offensive line that had been largely dismantled following the Bullygate scandal in 2013.

The biggest issue some have made with Wallace is that, while known as a deep threat, he doesn’t make the big splash play deep down the field as often as he should. In 2014, he was targeted on bombs of 20 yards or more 24 times. He caught just six of them. However, he had only one drop. Translation? Of the seven passes that were deemed catchable, he pulled in six of them. For purposes of comparison, Brandon Marshall of the Bears was the target of 101 passes. Of the 29 deep passes thrown his way, only six of them were viewed as catchable and he had just one drop.

While Wallace’s numbers were near the bottom of deep receptions among elite receivers who were go-to targets for their quarterbacks, the numbers show it isn’t completely his fault. In 2013, he was targeted 36 times on deep passes of 20 or more yards. Of those, only eight were deemed catchable. Of those, he dropped two of them. Those numbers were identical to Dez Bryant, which tied for second-worst behind only Andre Johnson, who dropped four of 12 catchable deep balls thrown his way.

While Wallace has a reputation as a deep threat, the fact of the matter is that he is a go-to receiver. In his two seasons with Miami, he was targeted 255 times. That placed him 16th in the NFL – behind Antonio Brown, Andre Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, A.J. Green, Pierre Garcon, Julian Edelman, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, T.Y. Hilton, Jimmy Graham and Anquan Boldin.

Wallace may not be as big a name as a lot of wide receivers in the NFL, but you have to appreciate the company he keeps. You don’t get membership into that club by accident.

The first Viking over the last two years to show up on the targets list was Greg Jennings – the player Wallace effectively replaces both on the field and against the salary cap – at No. 42 with 198 targets. Cordarrelle Patterson checked in at 80th with 144 targets. Jarius Wright was next at 105 targets – which ranked him 116th in the league.

Bridgewater only scratched the surface of his ability as a rookie, because it took the coaching staff a few games to take the training wheels off and let Teddy take off and improvise. They liked what they saw and the signing of Wallace is a symbol of that commitment. The Vikings have a go-to receiver that can get behind defenses – or at a minimum require double coverage with safeties leaning his way.

For the last two years, the Vikings haven’t had a wide receiver that can blow the lid off the top of a defense. It can be argued they haven’t had one since 2009. Then again, that was back when the Vikings had a quarterback that could make every receiver better.

It would appear the Vikings believe Bridgewater can develop receivers, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright’s improvement being the first case studies. With Wallace, the Vikings get a player accustomed to having a lot asked of him. Other than Tannehill and two offensive linemen, nobody was on the field more than Wallace in Miami’s offense.

He’s bringing that to the Vikings. Some may theorize that it’s a tectonic shift from a run-based offense with Adrian Peterson as the faceplate to the Teddy Bridgewater-based offense with a strong running component.

What makes the trade for Wallace so important to the Vikings offensive blueprint is that, while the jury may be out on Wallace’s deep-threat ability, you can’t question that, in the NFL, an able deep threat is just as valuable. The threat is what makes it valuable and Wallace brings that to Minnesota.

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