The Buffalo Bills may have drafted the next Mike Wallace.
T.J. Graham, the team’s third-round pick out of N.C. State, closely resembles the Pittsburgh Steelers’ absolutely blazing wide receiver in more ways than one.
He resembles him in many ways, actually.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t the first to draw the comparison between the relatively raw Wolfpack wideout and the Pro Bowl speedster.
Greg Cosell was.
Yeah, that Greg Cosell.
In a series of tweets following the Bills’ selection on Friday evening, Cosell discussed what he believes Graham brings to the field:
"“Not surprised Graham went off board to Bills. Not polished at all but most vertically explosive WR in draft. Dynamic speed.”“Ode to Bills fans: Graham most vertically explosive WR in draft. Both short area burst + top end speed. Cons: Small frame. Raw route runner.”“Graham’s issue will be size. Very small frame. Not strong. But similarities in vertical explosion to Wallace out of college few years back.”"
When I saw that last tweet, that was it. My heart was set on conducting thorough research on the two players to see if Cosell’s opinion was right and if the Bills indeed had a player with Mike Wallace potential on their hands.
The first and most obvious comparison is their size and combine numbers.
At the 2009 Scouting Combine, Wallace measured in at 6’0” and 199 pounds. His best 40-yard dash time was a blistering 4.33 seconds.
I’m talking shot-out-of-a-cannon-like.
This year in Indianapolis, Graham measured in at 5’11” and 188 pounds. His fastest 40 was 4.41.
Slower than Wallace, but still really moving.
Wallace did 14 reps on the bench to Graham’s eight and had a 40-inch vertical to Graham’s 33.5. However, Graham’s 20-yard shuttle (4.18 sec) and three-cone drill (6.77) were faster than Wallace’s respective times of 4.27 and 6.90.
So, if you put a ton of stock into the combine, Wallace is clearly a tad bigger with more straight line speed, and it seems like Graham possesses a better burst with more initial acceleration.
Of the six receivers in the 2012 class with faster 40-yard dashes than Graham, (we’re talking hundredths of seconds here) none had both a faster 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill.
I’d say Cosell was pretty spot-on to say Graham’s the most vertically explosive receiver in the class and that his explosion rivals that of Wallace’s when he was entering the NFL in 2009.
Does the similarity extend beyond the Under Armour Olympics? They don’t tell the whole story, anyway.
Let’s compare statistics.
During his three year career with the Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels, Wallace accumulated 101 receptions for 1,910 yards and 15 touchdowns.
As a sophomore, he reeled in 24 passes for 410 yards with two touchdowns.
He caught a career high 39 passes during his senior campaign of 2008 and finished that season with 784 yards (20.1 per grab) along with seven of those 15 scores.
As for Graham, his career path was eerily similar.
He contributed to the Wolfpack for four seasons, and finished his career with 99 grabs for 1,453 yards and 12 touchdowns.
His career low came as a sophomore when he caught only 12 passes for 129 yards with two scores.
In 2011, Graham pieced together a fine year. He had 46 catches for 757 yards with seven touchdowns.
Both had four 100-plus receiving yard games in their last collegiate season.
Again, Wallace seems more impressive. He had two more catches for nearly 500 more yards and three more receiving scores in one less year of play.
As a returner, the numbers are nearly identical.
Wallace was the team’s primary return man for his last two seasons and averaged 24 yards per return on kickoffs and took two to the house.
Graham had more than double the amount of opportunities during his career, and still managed a stunning 23.0 yards per return average with two scores of his own.
He also returned two punts for touchdowns in 66 attempts at a 9.8 yards per return clip.
It’s impossible to pinpoint how the systems at Ole Miss and N.C. State were different, the strength of opposing secondaries each faced, or any of that.
So, beyond the combine numbers and the cold-hard stats, what was the general consensus on both prospects during their pre-draft voyages?
NFL.com said the following about Wallace in 2009:
"Despite starting three years for the Rebels, he didn’t establish himself as one capable of taking advantage of his speed until he averaged 18.9 yards on 38 receptions as a junior. A year later, Wallace’s speed was even more lethal, as he averaged 20.1 yards per reception and scored a career-high seven touchdowns.Wallace is still a work in progress as a route-runner, but his ability to stretch defenses deep as an outside receiver and special teams wide on kickoff returns could land him a second-day draft selection from an NFL team looking to catch lightning in a bottle."
They listed his strengths as “rare straight-line speed” and “smooth acceleration.” His weaknesses? A “work in progress as a route-runner” and that he “lets too many passes into his pads, resulting in some ugly drops.” Lastly, and somewhat oddly, NFL’s site said he “doesn’t show the vision or elusiveness to capitalize on pure speed.”
NFL.com said the following about Graham this year:
"Graham is undersized (weight) at receiver but has started sparingly throughout his career for North Carolina St. He is extremely fast and that is where his value lies. He is still a developing route runner and can get knocked for being a “track guy” and not reliable across the middle. Nevertheless, his 40 time will be important throughout pro days and the combine, and he could be selected as high as the third round."
They listed his strengths as a “burner who can take the top off defenses” and that he “is very good at focusing on the ball all the way into his hands when running deeps and looks natural catching.”
His weaknesses? “Still developing as a route runner and won’t go across the middle for balls.” Also, “lacks strength to be an effective blocker.”
Pretty similar, no?
Certainly, it seems like Wallace was a bit more polished as a receiver.
But just like Graham, Wallace was a relatively raw route-runner who was mainly utilized as a “go-route” specialist during his college years.
And just like Graham, his speed allowed him to be successful.
If anything, Graham seems a little more elusive after the catch making defenders miss in the open field.
Regardless of where draftniks projected each prospect before the draft, both Wallace and Graham were third-round selections. Don’t forget that.
That’s all that matters.
Actually, all that matters is that Graham works his butt off and Chan Gailey puts him in a position within the Bills offense to allow the youngster to grow into the guy he most closely resembles—Mike Wallace.