We left off last Wednesday looking at Tavon Austin. While Austin has (rightfully) been getting plenty of attention for his highlight reel elusiveness as a jack-of-all-trades, his season has somewhat overshadowed how effective fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey has been. Austin, the explosive wide receiver/returner/running back burst into national consciousness with a nationally televised 500 total yard performance against Oklahoma, becoming a fan favorite in the process. Bailey turned in an excellent day himself versus the Sooners, hauling in 13 catches 205 yard, four touchdown performance. A junior who declared for the NFL Draft last week, Bailey has caught passes from WVU quarterback Geno Smith since the two were teenagers at Miramar High School in Miami. That trust carried over to college, culminating in a 106 catch, 1500 yard, 23 TD junior season.
While Austin and Bailey may both be considered small, they're very different types of wide receiver. Austin excels with the ball in space. You want to get him the ball quickly and let him run. Bailey, an outside wide receiver, inflicts his damage in more traditional ways. Despite being listed at 5'10" and 188 lbs, he's incredibly strong and physical, and that ruggedness makes it virtually impossible to get physical and press him. He routinely beats jams at the line and gives himself a clean release, fights defensive backs grabbing throughout the route, and repeatedly makes the right body position moves to complete contested catches (he also shows displays great awareness for where the sideline and back of the endzone are).
All season long, Bailey was the Mountaineers' top redzone threat. One of WVU's favorite concepts in the redzone were backside isolation routes to Bailey from play action. His uncanny strength (through the release, route, and catch) often proved to be too much for corners to handle, and his QB is very adept at finding Bailey through tiny passing windows off the play fake.
Bailey is running a backside skinny post off play action. Immediately off his release, Bailey puts the corner on his heels with a stutter-step.
Instead of being able to play on his toes, Bailey's stutter-step leaves him flat-footed. Bailey slaps his hands away (similar to a good pass rusher's hand slap) and fights to get inside position.
After Bailey makes his break, the corner recovers and begins trying to ride Bailey's hip and undercut the route. Bailey uses his body to box the corner out and goes up in the air to high-point the ball.
Bailey secures the contested catch in the air, brings it into his body, and controls it through the corner's tackle for a touchdown.
Not only has Bailey been a rugged and steady chain-mover and redzone threat for WVU, he's also been an excellent downfield receiver the last two seasons (as evidenced by his 17.8 and 14.2 YPC marks in his two years starting).
Here, WVU is taking a shot play off of play action. They fake an inside zone to the running back. The two slot receivers don't run patterns - they slow release and settle in front of the defensive backs downfield, as if they're stalk blocking for a run play. Bailey runs a post play downfield, hopefully beating his corner and getting behind the safeties coming up on the run fake.
Unlike the redzone touchdown, the corner isn't up in Bailey's face to press to begin the play. He's playing off-man coverage and has inside leverage on Bailey. Stedman uses his stutter-step off the line to get the corner to open his hips and turn to the sideline. Once the corner's hips are turned, Bailey plants and accelerates for inside position on his vertical stem.
The corner flips his hips and tries to latch onto Bailey and ride him upfield. Bailey sticks his arm in the corner's chest to separate, then pulls away from him as he runs downfield. He tracks a beautifully thrown ball over his shoulder in-stride and takes it in for a touchdown.
Bailey isn't getting near the recognition of senior teammates Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. He's undersized, and doesn't figure to run a blazing 40 times, putting him behind the 8-ball in the measurable department. However, Bailey's physicality, knowledge of how to use his body to create separation, ball skills, and fast playing speed figure to give him a long and productive career. Some organizations will probably write him off as too small or not fast enough, but one lucky organization will find themselves with a pass catcher who plays much bigger and faster than his listed size or 40 yard dash time.