Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace will soon have company among the NFL's best big-play wide receivers, provided by the presence of two future rookies: former University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and former Southern Methodist University wide receiver Aldrick Robinson.
A wide receiver's first priority is always to make his quarterback better, and the best wide receivers are the ones who can improve their quarterback's passing statistics the most.
As a measuring tool for just how much having the wide receiver in the passing game raises the level of a quarterback's play, I compared how the wide receivers' quarterbacks played when the wide receivers' statistics are included in the passing totals to the same quarterbacks' numbers when the wide receivers' statistics are removed.
Under that condition, Jonathan Baldwin is not just the best big-play wide receiver in the 2011 NFL draft class, but he is also the best overall wide receiver of the 10 wide receivers whose college careers I examined, a list which includes the more highly regarded former University of Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and former University of Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.
For Baldwin's college career, compared to when Baldwin's statistics were included in the Pittsburgh quarterbacks' numbers to when they were removed, Pittsburgh quarterbacks experienced a 4.3 percent increase in completion percentage (from 62.2 percent to 64.9 percent), a 9.3 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 7.5 to 6.8), a 12.5 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 12.0 to 10.5) and a 19.6 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (from 4.6 percent to 3.5 percent).
Due to the fact Baldwin's routes are usually of the deep variety, which are the hardest to consistently complete, he will never be a quarterback's completion percentage's best friend, but the increased value he provides in other areas more than makes up for that.
Baldwin was such a valuable big-play wide receiver in college that the decreases Pittsburgh quarterbacks experienced in yards per pass attempt and yards per completion were statistically significant ones, a feat unequaled among the other nine wide receivers.
With that sort of production in college, there is no question Baldwin will be able to have success in the NFL by immediately making a passing offense more potent. Also, since Baldwin stands at 6'5", combined with his big-play capabilities, he can keep the team who drafts him from taking the huge gamble of signing Plaxico Burress. Baldwin is a player who can give a team everything Burress could without the baggage and the risk of decline.
Baldwin might not be the first wide receiver drafted, but he certainly deserves to be.
While Baldwin's name is likely to be familiar to those following the NFL draft closely, Aldrick Robinson's name may not, which is truly a shame since Robinson was the second-most valuable wide receiver out of the 10 I examined, trailing only Baldwin in how much he helped his quarterbacks.
Compared to how SMU quarterbacks performed when Robinson is included in their passing statistics to when he is removed, the quarterbacks underwent a 2.2 percent increase in completion percentage (from 59.2 percent to 60.5 percent), a 9.2 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 7.6 to 6.9), a 10.9 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 12.8 to 11.4) and a 12.9 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (from 6.2 percent to 5.4 percent).
Like Baldwin, Robinson is best at raising a quarterback's yards per completion average and better at it than the other eight wide receivers I looked at, solidifying his place among elite big-play wide receivers since the decrease SMU quarterbacks had in yards per completion was statistically significant.
Although Robinson is not nearly getting the recognition he deserves for his play, the team smart enough to draft him will be more than pleased with his ability to stretch the field vertically.
Both Baldwin and Robinson did not just best their fellow future wide receiver rookies in yards per pass attempt and yards per completion value, but they also had more successful college careers than Mike Wallace did in yards per completion value.
During his time at Ole Miss, when Ole Miss quarterbacks had Wallace's production included in their statistics to when he was removed from them, they experienced a 0.2 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 51.7 percent to 51.6 percent), a 10.1 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 6.9 to 6.2), a 9.8 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 13.3 to 12.0) and a 11.5 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (from 5.2 percent to 4.6 percent).
As his college statistics show, Wallace was a slightly more complete college wide receiver, owing to the fact he was more valuable to his quarterbacks' completion percentage and yards per pass attempt than were Baldwin and Robinson. However, as purely deep threats, Baldwin and Robinson were superior to Wallace.
Neither wide receiver may run an official 4.33 40-yard dash, as Mike Wallace did at the 2009 NFL combine, but there should be no question about either's speed. It is impossible for someone without above-average speed to average 18.3 yards per catch as both Baldwin and Robinson did over their college careers. Furthermore, SMU head coach June Jones called Robinson the fastest player he ever coached.
When it comes to big-play receiving threats in the 2011 NFL draft, no NFL team is going to find two more capable wide receivers than Baldwin and Robinson, which is why they should be the first two wide receivers who are drafted. Even though it is unlikely they actually will be, the NFL teams that retain their services will certainly see their passing offenses become more dangerous and potent.