When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Mike Wallace in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, there was much speculation of what his role with the Pittsburgh Steelers would be. The Steelers already had their "deep threat" guy in Santonio Holmes, and "Mr. Go To" Hines Ward.
Both Holmes and Ward were former Super Bowl MVPs, which is a claim that no other team could make.
There were questions as to whether Wallace was the eventual replacement for Hines Ward. Ward was 32 years old and had one of his worst seasons, not finishing in the top 40 in receiving yards in the NFL.
The Steelers used their third-round selection (84th overall) to select Wallace, and his impact was immediate in his rookie season.
Because of his blazing speed, Wallace became the deep threat that the Steelers had not had in a long time. Yes, Holmes was fast, and was used as the Steelers deep threat, but was not close to as fast as Wallace.
With Wallace stretching the field, it allowed Holmes to work the under routes, without having to deal with double teams from the safeties.
Holmes responded by becoming seventh in the NFL in receiving yards, with 1,248. Hines Ward finished with 1,167 yards, in ninth place.
Though Wallace caught less passes than Ward or Holmes, he still had 39 receptions for 756 yards and an average of 19.4, which led the NFL.
For the Steelers to have two receivers in the top 10, and to have a third have the best average in the NFL, is something that is not normal for them. Neither is missing the playoffs, which they did for the first time under Mike Tomlin.
With a new commitment to the running game in 2010, it was hard to imagine that the Steelers were going to have those types of numbers again.
Then the bottom fell out on the Pittsburgh Steelers, as both Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger were suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season. Things were not looking good from the outside for the Steelers.
After finding out about the Holmes drug suspension and knowing that if he were to test positive again, he would be suspended for a year, and knowing that he was in his contract year and they were not willing to pay him as one of the top receivers in the NFL, the Steelers traded Holmes away.
Now that the Steelers were without their franchise quarterback for the first four games of the season, and their top receiver was traded away, second year pro Wallace would be asked to step up and provide what Holmes took with him to New York.
Wallace did exactly that, as Wallace was fifth in the NFL with 1,257 yards receiving (more than Holmes had the year previous WITH Roethlisberger). Wallace also had 10 TDs (almost double his rookie season) and an average of 21.0 yards per catch (second to DeSean Jackson of the Eagles by 1.5 yards.)
Unlike his rookie season, Wallace no longer had the opposition's third corner covering him, and was now routinely guarded by the other teams best defensive back. Add to that that Wallace played the first four games without Roethlisberger throwing him the ball, and the leap from his rookie season to his second was almost unheard of.
After trading Holmes to the Jets, the Steelers drafted two players that were very similar to what Wallace was his rookie season. Emmanuel Sanders (SMU, third round) and Antonio Brown (Central Michigan, sixth round). Lightning fast receivers, with a similar size (a little smaller).
Sanders and Brown were drafted to bring in additional deep threats and to keep opposing teams from being able to double Wallace. Though neither of them had a rookie season as successful as Wallace, they both have the potential to be game breakers.
My opinion is that one of these men will eventually take the place of Ward, while the other is going to be the deep threat that Wallace used to be.
The only thing lacking for the Steelers at this point is the tall receiver that would require double teams on the defensive side of the field. That is another situation where Wallace will draw single coverage.
The Steelers signed one of these men, Wes Lyons, who was an undrafted free agent of the New York Jets in 2010. He is 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. Hines Ward has also stated publicly that he would like for the Steelers to resign Plaxico Burress after he is let out of prison in June.
Previously, this would have been unheard of, as prior to last year, the Steelers never brought back players. After bringing Antwaan Randle El back, it is a possibility that Plax could return to the Steelers.
Though many of these things make Ben Roethlisberger excited about the numbers that he will possibly be able to put up next year, Wallace should be more excited.
Drawing single coverage against almost any DB in the NFL is a mismatch for Wallace. With the weapons the Steelers could put around Wallace, many teams would not have a choice but to single cover Wallace.
And that could make him the best receiver in the NFL.