For me, Steadman Bailey and DeAndre Hopkins are competing to be the best receiver in this class. And it’s a close call.
This isn’t a class filled with 6-4 receivers who can dominate in the air and still get downfield. You won’t see any A.J. Green’s or Julio Jones’ going in the top ten. Keenan Allen is the highest rated ‘bigger’ receiver and he’s only 6-2. He’s also coming off an injury and isn’t expected to have a great combine (he could run in the high 4.5′s, maybe even 4.6′s).
What we do have this year are smaller, more technical and gritty receivers. Hopkins runs crisp routes, catches the ball with his hands, is the definition of clutch and is still capable of making downfield plays. Markus Wheaton is a speed merchant with better physical skills than you’d expect and he looks like a Mike Wallace clone. Robert Woods is a playmaker at 6-1 who can be used in a number of ways.
And then there’s Steadman Bailey. He’s only 5-10 and 188lbs. He’s not the type of player people get overly excited about because everything’s about size these days. How big are you? How fast are you? People should be getting excited about this guy though.
For starters I think he’ll run faster than anyone expects at the combine this week. There are a few example in the tape above where he gets in behind a defense or just shows a great burst coming out of his break to get open. Like Hopkins, he’s a savvy route runner who gets open through technical ability and precision rather than relying on strength and raw speed. He makes difficult catches look easy, he can get downfield, he’s a competitive player who deserves a lot more respect than he’s getting.
I admit I underestimated him to start with. It’s easy to do at that size. You also always have a degree of scepticism when you see this Dana Holgorsen offense. It’s a prolific, extreme spread offense. They used Geno Smith in a more orthodox manner than Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State, but there’s still a lot of air-raid concepts — steep drop back, double the size of the field and exploit a strong arm on underneath and crossing routes. Then you watch West Virginia closely and realise most of the manufactured stuff goes to Tavon Austin. Bailey is running pretty standard routes and making play after play.
In the three games logged in the tape above, Bailey makes 30 catches. I’ve watched it through twice now and didn’t see any drops. In fact, he looked extremely comfortable making each and every one of those thirty grabs.
People are going to make obvious comparisons to Golden Tate based purely on size. However, Bailey is much more technically accomplished than Tate was at Notre Dame. He’s a better route runner and a better catcher with superb control. Even during his last year in college where he won the Biletnikoff, Tate still looked like a converted running back a lot of the time.
I think he appealed to Pete Carroll and John Schneider because despite his size he ran well at the combine and showed a real competitive nature on the field. Tate wasn’t the biggest, but he played above his size. He’d win jump balls against taller defensive backs. He had a thick frame and some YAC potential. It pretty much took him three seasons to ‘get it’ in the league, but suddenly he looks the part. Maybe it’s the Russell Wilson factor? Whatever it is, Golden Tate is now an asset for Seattle and will probably continue his upward trend.
The Seahawks have been looking for another big receiver for a while. They drafted Kris Durham then brought in Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. None worked out and I suspect they’ll continue that search this off-season. I don’t expect them to go out and keep adding smaller receivers — they already have two with Tate and Doug Baldwin. I think they’ll only consider a shorter target if he’s competitive in the air and makes up for a lack of size in several different ways. For me, Steadman Bailey is so polished, so emphatic — his size doesn’t matter. And he should be an option for the Seahawks on pure BPA in round two if he’s still on the board. Depth is needed at receiver. I’m just not sure he makes it to #56.
Look at the first play in the video above where he makes a difficult over-the-shoulder touchdown grab in tight coverage. He makes a similar score at 2:47, showing superb control on the deep route. There are several examples where he presents his hands to the quarterback and plucks the ball out of the air. He constantly keeps moving to try and help out the QB and provide a target. It’s all effortless.
The Baylor tape is influenced by the fact the Bears decided to plant several scarecrows as defensive backs for the game. Some of the blown coverage situations are laughable. There’s also some superb plays between Smith and Bailey – including the fade for a touchdown at 3:37. The touchdown at 5:27 is a thing of beauty. Bailey fakes giving up on the route to take away the double coverage, then explodes back into fifth gear to make the scoring grab. Not many receivers show that level of awareness to get open. It’s crazy good.
His performance against Texas was a masterclass. It starts at 5:44 with a difficult touchdown catch on an underneath route in traffic. If that was tough, check out the score at 6:44. How does he catch that football? He’s diving to the back of the end zone, his body isn’t in an ideal position to make the catch. And yet he completes it while also escaping tight coverage. His third score against the Longhorns again shows great adjustment to the ball, avoiding traffic to make what looks like an easy catch, but it probably isn’t.
Some of Bailey’s success can be put down to familiarity with Geno Smith. They went to high school together and years of chemistry has developed going into the pro’s. Whichever team drafts Geno Smith really should be busting a gut to get Bailey too. I suspect they’ll just continue to produce even at the next level. But let’s not take anything away from these two — they both deliver as individuals and it’s time Bailey started to receive more attention.
The Seahawks don’t necessarily need another Golden Tate style receiver, but you aren’t drafting Bailey to fit a mould. You’d be drafting him because he’s better than most other receivers in this class, presents terrific value and will be a polished receiver at the next level. He’ll compete against bigger defensive backs. He’ll be a playmaker. So even if this team wants to get bigger at receiver, I still think they’ll have a hard time passing on Steadman Bailey if he’s there in round two.
Let us know what you think. There’ll be an updated mock draft tomorrow.
Note: After I completed this piece, tape against Oklahoma and Syracuse was also made available. So here it is…