Stedman Bailey could have waited to receive more NFL pre-draft feedback in January, but the Biletnikoff finalist chose to forgo his senior season almost as sharply and decisively as he runs routes.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen announced Bailey’s intentions Monday, predicting the national leader in touchdown catches “will be a great pro.” The fourth-year junior’s final college game will come during the Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl, at which point Holgerson said Bailey will be honored among the other seniors.
“He came to talk to me about it a couple days ago, and I didn’t discourage him,” said Holgorsen. “It’s on his mind. I don’t think it would have been fair for me to try to talk him out of it.
“He’s had two tremendous years in a row. If you put two good years together and you’re an underclassmen, then you’ve got a chance to do some good things at the next level. That’s what (NFL teams) look for.”
The timing of Bailey’s exit makes sense beyond this season’s stratospheric statistics — 106 catches for 1,501 yards and 23 touchdown receptions (seven more than the next-closest FBS receiver). He was part of the 2009 signing class with current seniors Geno Smith (who also was a high school teammate) and Tavon Austin, a trio that came to epitomize WVU’s uptempo, basketball-on-turf offense.
“Those are my buddies, we all came in together,” Bailey said. “It’s only right that I go out with them.”
“I think it’s time for him to go (to the NFL), and I support him. I think he’ll do well. He’ll represent West Virginia well for many years to come.” — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen on Stedman Bailey
With WVU set to break in an inexperienced quarterback next season — perhaps Paul Millard, Ford Childress or one of the junior college targets still uncommitted — who knows how the 2013 offense will develop.
“At this point, I don’t think my stock couldn’t get much higher,” Bailey said.
Plus, Bailey now has a son, increasing the allure of an NFL contract.
“He played into this decision,” said Bailey. “I have a family now and that pretty much comes first for me, so it all works out for me to go.”
Bailey’s school-record 39 career touchdown receptions are tops among active FBS players. His 202 catches are third on the WVU career list behind Austin (284) and Jock Sanders (206), and Bailey’s 3,097 receiving yards are second only to Austin’s 3,383.
Holgorsen previously coached two other early-entry receivers, Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. He’s interested to see whether his critique of Bailey — “He’s durable, he’s smooth, he’s got great hand-eye coordination,” — will be enhanced by measurables at the NFL combine.
“I’ll be curious to see how he tests out, that’s what all the NFL people are going to want to know,” Holgorsen said. “We don’t 40-yard dash ‘em or do any of that stuff here. It’s all player development.”
Bailey’s early decision also could have a domino effect on WVU’s recruiting, signalling the availability of more playing time to potential wide receiver signees.
Though Smith insisted he didn’t counsel Bailey on leaving school early, he threw support behind his teammate’s decision, saying their simultaneous leap to the NFL “was kind of what we envisioned as 15-year-olds” back at Miramar (Fla.) High School.
“We knew if we worked as hard as we could, we could set ourselves up to be in position to take care of our families for a long time,” Smith said. “That was the agreement that we made: that I was going to push him and he was going to push me. We’ve done it together for about eight years now.”
And should their draft fates overlap, the duo might continue to be teammates at yet another level.
“I hope whoever picks me does pick Stedman Bailey,” Smith said, “because he’s one of the better receivers coming out this year. That would be ideal.”