With all the focus on Tavon Austin and Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey seems to be the forgotten man coming from West Virginia's high-powered offense. Last season, Bailey caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns, which surpassed Tavon Austin's total production.
Despite the success in college, Stedman Bailey is currently projected to be selected in the third round of the draft. Bailey likely won't go any higher simply because of his measurables. He is only 5'10" and didn't exactly blow anyone away at the NFL Combine or West Virginia's pro-day considering his best 40-yard dash time was only 4.51 seconds.
However, look more closely and you'll see that he was impressive in two other drills. At the combine, he placed eighth best in both the three-cone drill and 20 yard shuttle with times of 6.81 seconds and 4.09 seconds respectively.
Put on the tape and Stedman Bailey proves that he can consistently get open. His skill-set is best utilized when he is 10-to-20 yards down the field, so it is no coincidence that those are the drills he excelled in. Bailey is a quick route-runner who knows how to get himself open by running a myriad of different routes. He also has excellent body control which allows him to make some very difficult catches.
In the video above, there are various plays that outline his abilities. His sideline catch at the 1:02 mark of the video and his touchdown grab at the 7:30 mark both show his sensational route-running and body control. On both catches he manages to get both feet down, which shows his excellent field awareness.
He has also shown the ability to catch the ball in heavy traffic, like the catch at the 6:01 point of the video above. Despite being only 5'10", Stedman has consistently shown the ability to play larger than his size. Being a player that catches with his hands and not his body, it adds to his ability to make difficult catches like the examples above. He can snatch the ball out of the air and manage to hold onto it without letting the ball come all the way to his body.
From all reports, Stedman Bailey is also a hardworking player that plays with a chip on his shoulder. Who wouldn't play with a chip when they set school records yet might not even scratch the second round? Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke on Stedman Bailey with high regard:
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"He worked hard, he got out there and he practiced hard, he developed in the weight room and he listened and made plays," Holgorsen said. "He is a good football player. He is durable, he is smooth and he has got great hand-eye coordination.
In addition to that, Bailey is just a flat out smart player. That is a reason why Geno Smith went to him so much in situations when a play had to be made. Stedman Bailey knows how to find the holes in the defense and has shown the ability to know exactly where the first down marker is. Click here to check out this touchdown when Bailey found the open space against the zone-defense. He adjusted his slant route to find just enough space for the score. Bailey is smart and reliable, something that can't be overlooked in his game.
Stedman Bailey compares to the longtime Carolina Panther, Steve Smith. Like Smith, he runs precision routes at all levels and is a playmaker down the field. Despite having a small frame, they both are also not afraid to go over the middle to catch balls in traffic.
Bailey also compares to Greg Jennings. They both share the ability to make plays that most receivers their size normally couldn't. Bailey is a clutch player like Jennings and brings the same versatility to the field which the ability to play multiple receiver positions.
Out of former and current New England Patriots players, Stedman Bailey likely compares to Deion Branch in his prime. He won't blow defenses away with his breakaway speed, but they both have reliable hands and rarely drop a ball. Both players come up with difficult catches and have been relied on heavily when the game was in crunch time. After all, he was Geno Smith's favorite receiver, not Tavon Austin. Like Deion, Bailey is a reliable receiver that Tom Brady would easily be able to build chemistry with.
How He Fits
Bailey would fit nicely in the New England Patriots' system due to his versatility. At West Virginia, he spent most of his time at the X receiver position, but did move around to the Y and Z positions as well. As everyone knows, versatility is heavily valued in the eyes of Bill Belichick, so Bailey brings a lot of positives there.
His clutch play should also be valued. At end of game situations, Tom Brady needs to have confidence in his receivers to make the correct play or make the right adjustments to their routes. Bailey is extremely smart on the football field and has proven to be reliable in those situations.
There are currently a lot of questions for the Patriots at the X receiver. With Emmanuel Sanders out of the loop, the WR is a major need with Donald Jones or Michael Jenkins being your starter there. With Sanders still a Pittsburgh Steeler, Bailey would most definitely be an option in the third round.
Stedman Bailey has not spent much time as a kick or punt returner, so that could potentially be a negative when Bill Belichick and the front office assess his value to special teams. However, he was a gunner on West Virginia's punt coverage. If New England holds on to both Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins, Bailey could very well start the year as an inactive player each week. But Jones and Jenkins aren't longterm options, so a "redshirt season" for a third round pick that has the caliber Bailey has might not be a bad idea.
He might not have blown away scouts at the combine with Tavon Austin-like numbers, but his professional relationship with Geno Smith will prove to be valuable with any quarterback that he gets paired with in the NFL.
Perhaps Stedman Bailey will be forging a relationship with the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. In the past the Patriots seem to have drafted wide receivers based on their measurables (see Chad Jackson or Brandon Tate), but maybe this year they will take a player based on their production. Stedman Bailey certainly hasn't let anyone down in that category.
(Article edited on 4/11/13 to revise the Emmanuel Sanders portion.)