Stedman Bailey was one of the most productive wide receivers in the country over the last three years, racking up 41 touchdowns and 3,223 yards on 209 receptions. His dynamic teammate Tavon Austin drew much of the attention that was left over after people were done with Geno Smith, but Bailey may have been the most consistent of the three.
In my recent article speculating on potential landing spots for the top wide receivers in the draft, I mentioned him as one of the top ten wide receivers in the class, but I suggested that he might go in the top of the third round. That’s consistent with the grade that many people have ascribed him. As I’ve said many times, this wide receiver class is quite deep, so some upper-end talent may get pushed down the board and end up as great value in the middle rounds. And Bailey may very well fall into that category.
| Ht || Wt || Class || Ranking || Projection |
| 5'10" || 193 || Junior || 71st || Early-Mid Second |
Polish: It’s almost become a given that, apart from truly elite talents, wide receivers don’t produce in their first two or three years in the NFL. The biggest reason many of them adapt slowly is because learning to run NFL routes doesn’t come naturally to most people. There are many subtle nuances to the position, and athleticism only gets you so far.
Bailey may not be a future NFL star, but it won’t be because of his route-running. He has a firm grasp of the nuances of NFL routes. He runs with precision and anticipation, and shows an advanced ability to set up defenders with his body language. He mirrored Geno Smith well (one of the reasons he became such a trusted target), and should be a reliable third-down target at the next level.
Physicality/Hands: Despite being only 5’10” and under 200 pounds, Bailey is actually has a fairly thick build. His body mass index of 27.7 is higher than Da’Rick Rogers’ 27.1, for example, and no one is questioning Rogers’ build. People have compared Bailey’s physicality to Golden Tate and the Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith, and he does have a hint of “running back” to his movements like them.
However, he’s more high-waisted than they are, and doesn’t power through tackles in quite the same way. But he does have uncanny balance and unexpected power at the catch point, occasionally muscling out bigger cornerbacks to make a catch. He won’t make a career of it like Anquan Boldin, but I do think his size and durability concerns are a bit overblown. His hands are big for his size (9 7/8”) and it shows up on tape. Stedman Bailey drops are a rare thing, even when absorbing big hits. He consistently catches away from his body, and his hands are soft.
Production: His productive college career is undeniable. Productive college wide receivers typically translate to the NFL more consistently than productive college quarterbacks. That is, the stats of college quarterbacks can be more easily inflated by their scheme than the stats of college wide receivers. Bailey wasn’t the primary target on his team, and he was never the best athlete on the field, yet he was still one of the most productive receivers in the FBS.
Size/Athleticism: Though I downplayed the concerns about his durability, his size will be one reason he drops a bit further than his talent might suggest. Receivers who don’t crack the six-foot mark don’t often get drafted in the first round unless they possess otherworldly athleticism. The depth in this year’s class will only enhance that reality.
Bailey also isn’t the most explosive jumper; he struggled to high-point the ball in college, even though he tracks the ball over his shoulder extremely well. While his arms are quite long for his height (at 32 3/4”, they’re longer than 6’5” Brandon Kauffman’s arms), they don’t show up that way on film. His catch radius just isn’t that big, even if he’ll catch anything within it. And his field speed is slower than his Combine 4.46 forty-yard dash. He doesn’t have run-away speed, and NFL defensive backs will probably be able to chase him down.
Versatility: Given his size, the odds are against him making a career as an outside receiver at the NFL level. Tate, Smith, and Percy Harvin are about the same size, and they have all had varying degrees of success on the outside, but they’re all significantly more explosive than Bailey. In order to maximize his NFL success, he’ll need to win from the slot, and he only rarely played there at West Virginia. So while he’s already a mature and capable route-runner on the outside, he’ll need to refine that part of his game to ensure that he reaches his potential.
He also has basically zero experience as a returner, so he won't be able to make an impact there if he doesn't take to an NFL playbook immediately. His special teams experience at West Virginia was limited, in general, and most teams prefer to use non-top-20 wide receivers on special teams as they adapt to the NFL. His lack of experience there will be a bigger knock for some teams than for others.
Since he’s only 5’10” and doesn’t have Percy Harvin’s extraterrestrial athleticism, Bailey’s draft ceiling is probably outside the first round. However, his college production, football IQ, and QB-friendly playing style may cause a team to fall in love with him over a more dynamic wide receiver; so if he goes higher than he’s being projected now, don’t be surprised. Teams value immediate contributors, and he can be one in the right offense.
Much like Kendall Wright, who is also 5’10”, he could have a first year with 60-75 receptions, around 700 yards, and half a dozen touchdowns. Both Wright and Bailey were legitimate deep threats in college, and Wright went 20th overall to the Titans (granted, in a much lighter receiver class). If a team like Houston or Green Bay prioritizes a player with his skillset, he could sneak into the back end of the first round. Otherwise, I’d peg him as most likely to come off the board somewhere between Philadelphia at 34th overall and St. Louis at 46th overall.