CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 27: T.J. Graham #6 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack gets away from Anthony Branch #25 of the Louisville Cardinals on his way to scoring a touchdown during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 27, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Buffalo Bills Assistant GM Doug Whaley was still with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Pro Personnel Coordinator when the team spent a 2009 third-round draft pick on Mississippi wide receiver Mike Wallace. A 6'0", 195-pound prospect with blazing 4.28 speed, Wallace was the No. 84 overall pick that year - and when he was picked, it was immediately noted by the so-called "experts" that Wallace provided two things (speed and kick return ability) that the Steelers lacked at receiver.
North Carolina State receiver T.J. Graham finds himself in a similar situation today as a third-round pick (No. 69 overall) of Whaley's new team, the Bills. He's not at the same level as a prospect Wallace was - he's not as fast, and he's not quite as big - but he's coming off of a similar career arc, and adds the same qualities to Buffalo's receiving corps as Wallace added to Pittsburgh's in 2009.
Given what GM Buddy Nix said about Wallace himself at the 2012 NFL Combine, it's clear that the Bills think that speed receivers capable of playing out wide are rare.
"If you look at the most productive receivers in the NFL, they're guys that run somewhere between 4.48 and 4.55," Nix told Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News in February. "In that range. They're not guys that are 4.32, and 4.2 - I mean, all that's nice. Every now and then, (you get) a Mike Wallace."
Let's make this abundantly clear: it's unfair to compare Graham to Wallace, given Wallace's 171 receptions, 3,206 yards and 24 touchdowns in three years in Pittsburgh. It would be a stretch of monumental proportions to expect that out of Graham. But it seems clear to us that the idea behind taking Graham is similar to Pittsburgh's idea behind taking Wallace three years ago. It's the idea, not the comparison, that we are most interested in.
Bills head coach Chan Gailey made it clear right after Graham was picked by the Bills that the team sees him as a perimeter receiver, not a slot/gadget-type player that many, including yours truly, expected him to be the moment we heard his name called. That's the role Wallace plays in Pittsburgh, and it's the role Graham will fill in Buffalo. It's an interesting philosophy - and given that the team moved up a bit to get him, you have to imagine that they're extremely hopeful that Graham can at least provide the same type of impact offensively as Wallace has, even if the numbers aren't there.
We said we weren't trying to compare the players now, and we mean it. But as prospects, there are striking similarities. Wallace is 6'0" and 199 pounds; Graham is 5'11" and 188 pounds, but has the frame to add a few pounds to better handle the rigors of playing against press coverage on the edge. Wallace ran a blazing 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the 2009 combine; Graham's 4.41 this year pales in comparison, but many thought the track star would run faster, and his 1.47-second 10-yard split is in the same territory as Wallace's 1.43. Their college stats are even rather alike, though again, Wallace was the more explosive (and more polished) player in college (though their final-year stats are very similar):
|Mike Wallace, WR, Mississippi (Round 3, Pick 84)|
|T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State (Round 3, Pick 69)|