By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Never let it be said that I was one to tell the National Football League how to run its business, for it certainly has been completely successful in bringing America exactly what it wants in the terms of entertainment.
There is, however, one area where there is room for improvement and that would seem to the be the draft.
Oh, they have turned it into the longest running show this side of “Les Miserables” with their scouting process that includes the combine and a nationwide network of pro days, measuring everything down to the caloric intake of prospective nose guards.
The problem, however, is that don’t let their eyes and their experience in judging talent override those numbers that they see before them.
If they did, they would never have West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey as anything but a first-round draft choice.
True, he stands only 5-10 and, at that size, he does not have the blazing speed of a Tavon Austin, checking in at just 4.46 in the 40 … although for the life of me I don’t really understand where one-tenth of a second makes very much of a difference one way or the other.
If you have seen Bailey operate on the receiving end of passes from Geno Smith you surely understand exactly how outstanding his talent is.
“Two best receivers in this year’s draft in my opinion, Stedman Bailey/ Tavon Austin and it’s not even close!” the WVU quarterback tweeted earlier this draft season.
Yet, on the heels of that, you have a comment like this one from NFL.com.
“Bailey lacks the ideal size and speed of an outside receiver. However, what Bailey lacks in terms of measurable, he makes up for with reliable hands, physicality, and superb body control. He will likely be selected on the second day.”
If he makes up for those other “shortcomings”, so to speak, then why second day … why not second round? Or first round?
To understand just how wonderful a receiver Bailey is, you have to take into account exactly what he did at WVU.
In his senior season, he caught 114 passes for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns.
No WVU player has ever caught more, nor gained more yardage, nor taken more for touchdowns …and that includes this year’s draft sensation, Tavon Austin.
You worry about speed? Bailey was a deep target, not taking the short throws from Smith, possessing two career receptions of more than 80 yards, three more than 70 yards.
And as for those record-shattering numbers this year, let it not be forgotten that during the
year he played two and a half games with an ankle problem that slowed him to the point that he managed to catch only 12 balls for 120 yards in those three games combined.
As for those who worry about him against NFL completion, consider that his three games while healthy against the best competition in the schedule he caught 35 passes for 505 yards and eight touchdowns … against Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Think those three teams might send some players to the NFL?
And, most mind blowing, those were not his best game.
That came against Baylor, granted a team with a pass defense as ineffective as WVU’s, but think the Mountaineers were going to beat that Baylor that scored 63 points had not Bailey been effective enough to catch 13 passes for 303 yards and five touchdowns.
The yardage and touchdowns are school records. In fact, he is first AND second in touchdowns scored in a single game in WVU history with 5 vs. Baylor and 4 vs. Oklahoma.
Bailey believes he’s ready for the NFL, which is why he came out as a junior.
“I’m pretty satisfied with the combine and pro day,” he said. “I’m just a guy still trying to prove myself to all NFL coaches and anyone who matters that I am an NFL receiver.”
And what he wants to do is prove that he is not a project that will take time to adjust to the pro game.
“I’m ready to make an immediate impact wherever I land,” he said. “I don’t think it will be a big difference.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.