Is Mike Wallace an Upgrade at Wide Receiver for the Minnesota Vikings?

Mike Wallace has fallen short of expectations ever since signing his rich contract with the Miami Dolphins. Can he now be an asset for the Minnesota Vikings in a new environment?

Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings badly wanted to land free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. Now, they get their man via a trade with the Miami Dolphins.

In acquiring Wallace and a seventh-round pick from the Dolphins for a fifth-rounder, the Vikings appear to be trying to bolster the weapons around Teddy Bridgewater, who had an awesome rookie season. But is Wallace the right guy for the job?

We'll try to answer this by using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP tracks the points a player adds to his team's production relative to expectation. A five-yard reception on third and six is far different than a similar reception on third and three, and NEP accounts for that. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

We know Wallace was a disappointment in Miami, but can he provide real value to the Vikings? Let's take a look.

Failure to Meet Expectations

Obviously, if the Dolphins were willing to give up Wallace to move up two rounds in the draft, something didn't go as planned. That would be an understatement for the $60-million man.

Wallace failed to reach 1,000 yards in either of his two seasons on South Beach. He managed to do this despite receiving 142 targets in 2013 and 115 in 2014. Wallace did snag 15 touchdowns, with 10 coming in 2014, but even that couldn't beef up his metrics in numberFire's eyes.

In 2013, there were 90 receivers who recorded at least 50 targets. Of those 90, Wallace ranked 76th in Reception NEP per target at 0.48. Reception NEP per target tracks the expected points a player added on his receptions throughout the course of the season divided by the number of times he was targeted. The average of these 90 receivers in this category was 0.73.

Part of this could be chalked up to the struggles of Ryan Tannehill. That year, Tannehill ranked 25th in Passing NEP among quarterbacks who dropped back to pass at least 200 times. In this measure, he was sandwiched between known studs Sam Bradford and Kellen Clemens.

Tannehill improved significantly in 2014, as did Wallace's metrics. Wallace improved his Reception NEP per target to 0.67, which ranked 41st among the 87 receivers that were targeted at least 50 times. Ranking outside of the top 40 is still not a number-one wide receiver qualification, but it is at least better than placing in the 70's.

Now, Wallace moves to Minnesota. After seeing Wallace's metrics from each of the past two seasons, you have to wonder if he even provides an upgrade at the position.

Another One of the Guys

All in all, the Vikings' receiving corps really weren't too terrible in 2014. They just lack a truly dominant guy. Wallace does not change that status.

Below is a chart of the top five receivers currently on Minnesota's roster and their metrics from last year. The rank column shows how the player fared among the 87 receivers that were targeted at least 50 times in 2014.

PlayerTargetsRec. NEP/TRank
Greg Jennings910.7625th
Jarius Wright620.7528th
Charles Johnson590.7331st
Mike Wallace1150.6741st
Cordarrelle Patterson670.4383rd

Don't let the kids see Cordarrelle Patterson's marks. Nobody deserves such punishment.

The only real area where Wallace bested the Vikings' top trio was in the number of targets he received. You could argue that this skewed the numbers of Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson up as they would be more susceptible to volatility on big plays. Even when compared to other high-volume receivers, Wallace doesn't stack up well.

There were 40 receivers that recorded at least 100 targets last year. Wallace ranked 21st among them in Reception NEP per target. Basically, he's a middle-of-the-pack guy no matter which group you place him in.

Another reason that Wallace could have fallen short of the other Vikings receivers would be quarterback play. A wide receiver with a better quarterback will most likely post superior metrics to a receiver that is equally talented with a poor quarterback. But based on how Bridgewater and Tannehill performed on the whole last year, that argument falls short, as well.

QuarterbackDropbacksPassing NEPPassing NEP/P
Ryan Tannehill63746.720.07
Teddy Bridgewater44122.770.05

Based on that table, if anything, it should be the Vikings receivers that get a tiny boost based on quarterback play, not Wallace. In reality, though, this appears to be a wash.

All of this is not meant to be a condemnation of the move by the Vikings. Having four middling wide receivers is better than three and Cordarrelle Patterson. Johnson looked like a stud at times last year. If the acquisition of Wallace can help draw coverage off of him, then that's extra value added.

The main problem with Wallace is not his performance but rather his pay. Unless his contract is restructured, Wallace will carry a $9.9 million cap hit in 2015 and $11.5 million in 2016 and 2017. That's a lot for a receiver that doesn't provide a significant upgrade -- if any at all -- over the status quo.

This may also allow the Vikings to forgo a wide receiver with the 11th overall pick in favor of help elsewhere. When you consider how little they gave up to acquire Wallace, then you can start to see the logic behind the move, even if Wallace is not a clear upgrade.

Because of the compensation to acquire Wallace, this isn't a move that should set the Vikings backwards. But it's also not one that is going to improve them significantly. Unless Johnson explodes, the team will still be without a top-notch receiver. At the end of the day, Mike Wallace isn't terrible, and he isn't great. He's just another guy. Minnesota got the man they wanted two years ago, and now they'll have to see if they can finally get him to reach his expectations.