Mike Wallace — the closest thing to a fantasy football iron man
(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)
In his second and third seasons in the league, 2010 and 2011 Mike Wallace finished among the top 10 in fantasy scoring at wide receiver. He was a star at the time, a superior option even to Antonio Brown. When the Steelers shipped him off to Miami after 2012, people even worried if opting for Brown over Wallace was the wrong call.
In the years since, Wallace hasn’t been as good as his peak. He didn’t top 1,000 yards between 2012 and 2015 and hasn’t finished in the top 15 in fantasy scoring again. In short, the Steelers made the right call between Wallace and Brown.
On the other hand, he’s been a top-25 fantasy receiver every season but 2015. He’s only had one season of under 800 yards since his rookie year. And in his eight seasons, Wallace has missed only one game total out of 128 possible — and that was a meaningless Week 17 matchup in 2012 when there was nothing to play for. In Wallace’s career, the only other running back or wide receiver who has played 127-plus games is Eric Weems, who has played all 128 possible, and if we’re being kind, let’s just say Weems has never had the fantasy relevance Wallace has.
According to ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator, Wallace has outperformed his WR ADP in every year but one since 2011, with his one down season coming in his 2015 year in Minnesota, when he finished 74th in receiver fantasy scoring.
That year, Wallace had Teddy Bridgewater as his quarterback, who recorded a 7.5-yard average depth of target, fifth-lowest in the league. Wallace’s fantasy numbers have fairly closely aligned with his quarterbacks’ aDOTs over his career; when he was a top-10 receiver in 2010 and 2011, Ben Roethlisberger was fifth and sixth, respectively, in quarterback aDOT, whereas his worst seasons have come with quarterbacks who tend to throw the ball short.
Now in Baltimore, Wallace’s quarterback is Joe Flacco, who, with Marc Trestman as his offensive coordinator to start the last two years, has put up the lowest aDOTs of his career. The team now has Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator, and has spoken this offseason of opening up the offense for Flacco and the pass-catchers a bit more.
The Ravens didn’t draft a wide receiver this offseason or bring in any high-profile free agents, but did see Steve Smith Sr. (retirement) and Kamar Aiken (free agency) depart. Their targets aren’t likely to go to Wallace, who saw 109 targets in 2016 — not with Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, and other lightly used receivers likely to see a target increase. But 109 targets for Wallace is enough for him to produce.
Wallace isn’t ever going to be “Pittsburgh Steelers-era top-10 fantasy receiver Mike Wallace” again, but that’s not what fantasy owners want him for. Last season, he was drafted as the No. 58 receiver, which is basically the same as saying he wasn’t drafted. In early ADP information for this coming season, he’s at No. 51, which is more or less the same.
In short, we have a receiver who has been top-25 or better in every year but one, with a quarterback who should be throwing the ball further, who should see 100 targets (or close to it), and who is as safe a bet to be healthy and on the field as any guy in the league — and he’s essentially free in drafts. Mike Wallace isn’t a fantasy superstar anymore, but as bench depth/flex option/bye-week fill-in, he warrants more consideration than he’s getting.