The Associated Press
Just a junior, Stedman Bailey ranks highly on most WVU career receiving lists.
MORGANTOWN - The decision came as a shock to absolutely no one. Nor were the reasons for it at all surprising.Stedman Bailey will enter the NFL draft, giving up his senior season and a chance to further rewrite a West Virginia record book in which his name is already prominent. The junior wide receiver had been widely expected to make that decision."I support him fully,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.The decisions means the Mountaineers' Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl game against Syracuse will be the last not only for quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin, but the third member of that record-smashing trio, as well.
And Bailey admitted Monday that the imminent departures of Smith and Austin, both seniors, weighed heavily into his decision on several levels. First, the three came to West Virginia in the same recruiting class in 2009. Smith and Bailey also played together at Miramar High School in Florida."That played a role,'' said Bailey, who redshirted in 2009 while the other two did not, establishing the difference in their eligibility status. "Those are my buds. We all came in together and developed some great relationships. The fact that those guys won't be here makes it a whole lot different. I kind of felt like it was only right I go with them.''Perhaps more significant than wanting to go out with the group in which he came is that if Bailey were to remain another year, he would be in a far different situation in West Virginia's offense. He would be playing with a new quarterback, a rebuilt offensive line and without the threat of Austin to take away double-teams from opposing defenses.
Bailey has already submitted his underclassman evaluation request to the NFL and received the response. He said the NFL evaluators see him as a potential third-round draft choice based on his college performance to date. If he were to return and perhaps struggle in a rebuilding offense, who knows how that evaluation might change."At this point, my stock probably couldn't get much higher,'' said Bailey. "It'll be a new quarterback next year, Tavon won't be there and that could have defenses just keying on me. My numbers could go down and that played a role.''And lastly, Bailey also recently became a father."I have a family now, and that comes first,'' he said.
In that NFL draft in April, both Smith and Austin are projected as higher draft picks than Bailey, probably first-rounders depending upon their evaluations in the months leading up to the draft. Bailey can improve his stock, too, by performing well in pre-draft workouts and, if he's invited, at the NFL combine in February, but that's not a guarantee.In fact, Holgorsen wondered out loud Monday how Bailey would test in things like the 40-yard dash and agility drills. The Mountaineers tend not to measure such things with their players."I'm curious to see how he tests out,'' Holgorsen said."Running routes and catching the football are things receivers are supposed to do and that I've been doing my whole life. I don't think those things will be hard,'' Bailey said. "As far as running, I feel like I have pretty good speed and I'll be able to work on it more with whoever I train with.''
The fact is, Bailey isn't known as a particularly fast runner and for being exceptionally elusive. But a lot of receivers have made long careers in the NFL without those attributes."He has some things that only Jerry Rice had and some of the greats had, things that you can't coach,'' said Smith, who has been throwing passes to Bailey since they were kids. "He has things you can't coach and you can't really see on tape. He does things that don't even seem impressive because he does it so smoothly."He beats man-to-man coverage 100 percent of the time and I've rarely seen him drop passes. He doesn't have blazing speed, but you're not going to catch him from behind.''With a game yet to play, Bailey already sits first and second on WVU's all-time list for single-season receiving yards - 1,501 this season and 1,279 last. His 106 receptions this year are second only to Austin's 110 this season among the school's single-season receptions leaders.Bailey also holds the top two single-game receiving yards marks in school history - 303 against Baylor and 225 against Oklahoma State, both this season. And he and Austin share the top two spots on the list of single-game receptions with 14 and 13. Bailey has three of those 13-reception games.Despite playing just three seasons, Bailey will finish second behind Austin in career receptions if he gets the five he needs in the bowl game to pass Jock Sanders. He's also the school's all-time leader with 39 touchdown receptions and is second behind Austin in receiving yards.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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