Can Mike Wallace Continue to Be a Consistent Wide Receiver?

Mike Wallace has earned the boom-or-bust moniker in his career, but is his 2014 consistency a sign of things to come?

Mike Wallace is fast. He also isn't big. He has the ability to run deep routes and catch long touchdowns.

This, if we're being honest, has kind of summed up Wallace throughout his career. He has been a big-play guy who relies on big-yardage touchdowns.

But even that perception is questionable. Wallace has only had 5 games with more than 120 yards receiving out of his 85 career contests. He has also scored multiple touchdowns just five times as well.

That doesn't seem like a great number of big games from the speedster, but Wallace is currently the 16th-best fantasy football receiver in half-point-per-reception leagues.

And the Dolphins have already had a bye week. And Wallace has yet to have more than 81 yards in a game. He also hasn't had a multi-touchdown game yet.

What gives?

Model of Consistency

Imagine you didn't know this article centered on Mike Wallace and that you couldn't deduce the answer from the opponents. Now, look at this game log and guess which receiver had this production through six games.

New England711811
at Buffalo58561
Kansas City512740
at Oakland34351
Green Bay59671
at Chicago58461

How far down your list would Wallace have been? Well, if you happened to know that, last year, Wallace had only eight games with five or more receptions and just five games with a touchdown, you wouldn't have thought of him near the top of the list. If you did, you're probably not a great guesser.

But box scores can be easily skewed, and we have the metrics to figure out whether Wallace is actually helping the Dolphins as much as he is helping fantasy owners.

We'll do this by looking into his Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) and related NEP measures. What NEP tells us is how many points a player adds to his team's expected total. For instance, a 20-yard reception by Wallace to get the Dolphins to the 1-yard-line won't give his team six points, but he deserves to get some credit for getting his team in a point-scoring position for making a really good football play.

Analytic Breakdown

To date, Wallace's metrics are not as impressive as is his statistical production. Wallace is a pretty high-volume guy this year, and his 52 targets tie for 23rd in the league. Again, though, he has already seen his bye week.

So, as a result of attrition, Wallace is producing, but among players with similar volume, he is neither as prolific nor as efficient as his game log indicates.

Of the 42 receivers who have seen at least 40 targets so far this year, Wallace's Reception NEP (29.09) ranks just 28th. Of course, that is a cumulative mark, and while Wallace has 52 targets, some players have upwards of 70, so we'll check out his per-target Reception NEP.

It's actually worse than his Reception NEP.

Wallace ranks 31st out of the same 42 receivers in Reception NEP per target, adding just 0.56 points per target.

Wallace has hauled in 30 of 52 targets, giving him a 57.69% catch rate. That's 29th in the subset and further evidence that Wallace is really reliant on an extreme volume. He is, after all, on pace for 138.7 targets this season.

Will the volume continue? Or will Wallace's potential wane with a lack of targets?

Go-To Guy

It's safe to say that Wallace really is Ryan Tannehill's main option in the offense. The 52 targets, which are 20 more than the team's next most-targeted guy, Charles Clay, evidence this.

But there are some more intriguing trends in Wallace's favor, too.

Here are the production breakdowns from the team's five most-targeted players including their reception totals, reception market share (the percentage of team completions a player catches), Reception NEP, and target stats for the same categories.

ProductionRecRec MS%Rec NEPTargetsTarget MS%Target NEP
Mike Wallace3021.74%29.095223.85%13.42
Charles Clay2115.22%13.493214.68%4.09
Jarvis Landry2215.94%20.343114.22%10.96
Brian Hartline1913.77%18.333114.22%4.00
Lamar Miller1712.32%3.662310.55%-2.92

I'm not sure what jumps out first. I mean, obviously Wallace is out front in terms of targets, receptions, and NEP scores for both, but considering his high volume relative to the other guys, he isn't really producing that much more than the other 'Phins.

Clay, Jarvis Landry, and Brian Hartline all have very similar reception and target totals and catch rates to one another. If Wallace's efficiency marks really do indicate that he needs volume for success, then his productivity could very well take a dip recently. Landry has supplanted himself as a viable number-three option in the offense, and Clay has done the same after struggling with early-season injuries.

Still, Clay isn't yet fully healthy, and Landry is relegated to the slot. Besides, the touchdowns are making Wallace's recent successes, and surprisingly, they aren't coming from long bombs.

Red Zone Looks

Perhaps most impressive of all is Wallace's involvement in the red zone, something for which a 6-0, 200-pound receiver doesn't quite have the ideal build.

But he's producing and getting his looks even when the Dolphins get near the goal line.

Red ZoneRecRec MS%TargetsTarget MS%TDTD%
Mike Wallace733.33%926.47%550.00%
Charles Clay29.52%617.65%110.00%
Jarvis Landry419.05%411.76%110.00%
Brian Hartline314.29%514.71%110.00%
Lamar Miller314.29%514.71%110.00%

Even in the red zone, Wallace is dominating Tannehill's attention, and while a touchdown dependency isn't super appealing, being targeted near the goal line is always a plus for receivers.

I think the key statistic out of everything presented so far is Wallace's five red zone touchdowns. Every touchdown he has scored so far this year has come from within the 20, another stat that nobody could have guessed prior to the season.

Wallace, in this new Miami offense, might be amidst a transition phase from a deep-play threat to a viable, reliable short-yardage option albeit an inefficient one.

Can He Keep It Going?

This is the main question, of course. But basically we have seen that Wallace has been consistent in his raw production, which is good. We've also seen that he has not been very efficient, which is not quite so good. But despite relative inefficiency, he is seeing a high-volume of looks on his team, particularly in the red zone, which may be the best sign for consistent fantasy football usefulness of all and a very good sign for the offensive identity for the Dolphins.

Despite a temporarily murky backfield situation, Wallace has been the consistent factor in the offense. Tannehill himself ranks just 22nd in Passing NEP and and 23rd in Passing NEP per play, and some of the onus of that inefficiency lies in the hands of Wallace, Tannehill's most frequent target. Landry's emergence and Clay's return to health really seem to be the only ways that Wallace stops seeing such a high volume of passes.

But even with a quarterback outside the top 20 and some pretty worrisome efficiency marks, Wallace is seeing enough volume, particularly red zone volume, to help him post consistent numbers going forward, which is great for the Dolphins, who we view as a top-10 team through Week 7.