Over the past four years, Mike Wallace has gone from earning a reputation as one of the NFL’s most explosive receivers to simply living off it. After thriving as a deep threat for the Pittsburgh Steelers for four seasons, topped off by a 2010 campaign during which he racked up 1,217 receiving yards, hauled in 10 touchdowns and averaged 21 yards per catch, Wallace opted to leave the comforts of Ben Roethlisberger and the AFC North for more lucrative pastures. In 2013, he signed a $60 million deal with the Miami Dolphins, becoming one of the highest paid wideouts in the NFL.
But as expectations rose, Wallace’s play fell off. He wouldn’t crack 1,000 yards in either of his two seasons with the Dolphins. Then, he had an awful 2015 season with the Minnesota Vikings, during which he had the fewest targets (72) since he was a rookie.
Once a terrifying deep threat that defenses had to game-plan around, Wallace appeared to be on a rapid decline. This past off-season, he signed a two-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens, hoping to rekindle his deep playmaking ability with Joe Flacco; but then he zapped all buzz about a rebirth when he promptly failed the team’s conditioning test at the start of training camp.
You can imagine the response. A once great 30-year-old wide receiver failing to report to camp in good enough shape to complete a simple conditioning test? Was this the end of Mike Wallace?
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Then, something weird happened. A few days later, Wallace passed the conditioning test, yelling “I’m back!” as he joined his teammates on the practice field for the first time. It was a foreshadowing of things to come.
“I think I’ll get better this year, and I’ll show some people I have a lot up my sleeve,” Wallace told the Ravens team website during training camp.
Wallace’s prophecy has come true. So far this season he’s been the Ravens best receiver, racking up 673 yards and averaging 15.7 yards per catch, his best since 2011. And though he admits he no longer possesses the 4.33 speed he once flashed at the NFL Combine, Wallace remains one of the quickest athletes in the league. He is thriving in Baltimore not only as a deep threat, but by dominating quick slants and crossing routes over the middle, using his speed to separate from one-on-one coverage from cornerbacks.
Plays like the one above, where he catches a pass from Flacco over the middle, then accelerates past Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden in the blink of an eye for a 2o-yard gain, have defined Wallace’s season. And if opposing teams continue to give him one-on-one coverage on the outside, or attempt to play press coverage without safety help, Wallace will continue to do things like this:
That 95-yard catch and run against the Steelers two weeks ago was the longest play in Ravens history and another showcase of how dangerous Wallace can be with the open field in front of him. He may not be able to run 40 yards in 4.33 seconds any more, but he’s damn close.
“It’s disrespectful,” Wallace told the Baltimore Sun about teams’ insistence on playing press coverage against him. “I feel like if you press me, you’re going to lose 90 percent of the time, maybe 95.”
Wallace is currently on pace to finish the season with 1,198 receiving yards, the most since his 2011 season. From failing a conditioning test to establishing himself as the Ravens best wideout, Mike Wallace is one of the NFL’s best stories this season.