Elite. It's a word that's usually reserved for only the best of the best of the best of the numerous players currently involved with the National Football League. Players that get this title mean they have proven themselves to be at the top of their class at their positions and are likely considered to be one of the best players in the NFL. As such, this title isn't one that should be thrown around lightly.
Who are players that are considered to be elite? You can name them off the top of your head no doubt. There's at least three elite quarterbacks in the NFL: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. How about tight ends? Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham. This is easy so far right? Defensive ends: J.J. Watt, some could even argue our own Cameron Wake belongs on this list.
So you see where I'm going with this. All of these players, you can easily see the title of "elite" being placed on them as badges of honor. They've gone above and beyond the normal expectations and have made themselves stand out as the ones that young players coming into the league strive to one day become, they have very few weaknesses and use their abundant strengths to hide what little they have. That makes someone elite.
But this word "elite" has been grossly misused as of late, and has been bestowed upon players who are not deserving of this title but have been given it anyway because of results made by the team. Russell Wilson is a perfect example of this. Wilson is often credited with leading the Seahawks to their Super Bowl win in 2013, and rallying the team there once more last season.
This is a symptom of the Magical QB World which I wrote about before, and it's catering to the casual fans who haven't taken it upon themselves to try and learn more about football and are content to just turn on ESPN and hear what's going on while they get ready for work. The truth behind the Seahawks victories is actually the strength of their defense and their power-running game thanks to Marshawn Lynch. Wilson helps, but he is not the reason the Seahawks win games. Wilson is not elite.
But it's not just quarterbacks. One player who has been given the elite title and doesn't deserve it is a man who has recently been shipped off to the Minnesota Vikings. That's right, that person is wide receiver Mike Wallace.
For the sake of comparison, let's do what we did at the beginning of this column. When you think of elite, who do you think of? For wide receivers, that list would probably include Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, maybe even Antonio Brown. Then there's Mike Wallace. Hmm...one of these things is not like the others...
Because I don't want to just come off as arbitrary about this, let's go back and reexamine what I said about what it means to be "elite". You have become one of the best at your position, you are one of the best players in the NFL, you have very few WEAKNESSES. This is why Wallace is not elite.
People usually point to Wallace's numbers and his admittedly elite speed to make the case that he is an elite wide receiver. He has accumulated 47 touchdowns and almost 6,000 yards in only six years of actually playing in the NFL. Pretty good, I'll admit. In comparison, Calvin Johnson only had 7 more touchdowns than Wallace in his first six years. So sure, anyone who looks at the numbers on his statline would think, "Yeah, of course he's elite!"
But now we get into the argument against Wallace, and there is a lot more evidence opposing the idea of him being elite than there is to support it, in my opinion. Wallace's numbers are there, and he has an elite skill with his speed. But that's not enough.
Remember what I said about weaknesses? Wallace has a lot of them. He is not very good at running routes and they are sometimes sloppy, he is not very good at tracking the football, hence the complaint often thrown his way about how the pass has to be perfect for him to catch it. Speaking of catching, his catch radius is very small since he likes to catch with his body, which adds more pressure to the quarterback to - again - be perfect.
He prefers not to fight for the football, his effort has come into question, his attitude in the locker room has as well, especially since he pouted in his first game as a Dolphin because he made only one catch. That's understandable, except for one small problem...that game was a victory for his new team, why is he upset?
You can have issues and still be elite, Dez Bryant is by no means a boy scout, he definitely comes with his own set of problems. His on-field prowess makes up for that in spades though. All of those names I mentioned above, they have all of the qualities that Wallace lacks and some of his speed to boot. Dez Bryant fights for the ball, tracks it well, does everything he can to make a play on the ball. Wallace does not.
I will not deny that Mike Wallace brings a certain aspect to the game that offenses find useful, but that doesn't mean he deserves the "elite" label. Wallace's elite speed forces a defense to give a cornerback some safety help because of the threat of a deep ball, and that allows the other receivers to make plays. That was Wallace's main role in the offense, and he wasn't satisfied with that.
An elite wide receiver is one that can bail his quarterback out of jams, it's what makes players like Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson so unique and so sought after. An elite wide receiver is one that when all else fails, and the quarterback has no one else to turn to, he can throw up a prayer and count on his guy to make a play on the ball. That describes Dez, that describes Megatron, that does NOT describe Mike Wallace.
Wallace has the capability to be an incredible weapon in any offense, but the fact that he needs an elite quarterback whose strength is throwing the deep pass in order to be that great weapon he can be, proves that he isn't elite. Elites do what they do regardless of who's throwing the football, but Wallace needs someone who can make him better before he can do what he's great at.
So the next time you see the term "elite" being used, keep an open mind and be sure to examine why someone is being called elite. Is it because they have help from the players around them like Russell Wilson? Or is it because of a unique skill that they bring like Wallace? They're good players and they can help a team win, but they don't fit the definition of what an elite is.
This column was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater