Right Move, Right Time

Stedman Bailey

Stedman Bailey's decision to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft wasn't a surprise. It also was the only decision that made sense for Bailey on multiple levels.

What more does Bailey have to prove on the college level? He produced at a staggering rate this season, finishing as a Biletnikoff Award finalist with 1,501 yards and 23 touchdowns on 106 receptions.

Numbers sometimes lose their impact when viewed as a bulk total, so seeing his average production may better put that in perspective. In 12 regular season games, with opponents knowing what he was capable of, Bailey averaged 125 yards and 1.9 touchdowns per outing. He did that despite a midseason ankle injury.

How could Bailey hope to improve upon that sort of season? How could his name possibly be more a part of the national conversation, more on the minds of NFL scouts heading into the offseason?

That would be true even without the loss of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and the bulk of the offensive line. But with the team's star quarterback, a receiver who drew the attention of opposing defenses and the linemen who offered typically strong pass protection all exhausting their eligibility, the odds Bailey could even approach this season's productivity next year seem slim.

"Those are my buddies, and we all came in together," said Bailey, who redshirted his first season at WVU, unlike Smith and Austin. "I developed great relationships with guys like Tavon, and of course I've known Geno. The fact those guys won't be here, it would be a whole lot different. I feel like it's only right that I go with them."

But there are other concerns that played a role as well. Bailey has an infant son and hopes to provide for his new family.

He told reporters Tuesday his paperwork from the NFL indicated he might be selected around the third round of the upcoming draft. Given it would have been nearly impossible to improve upon his on-field production next season, the way he can best improve his professional prospects (and get the sort of contract he desires) is to focus in the coming months on his "measurables" -- 40-yard dash times and vertical leap heights.

Those simply aren't things players work on at West Virginia. Head coach Dana Holgorsen said as much on Tuesday, indicating the entire program is geared towards more conventional player development.

The timing is just right for Bailey.

"It was hard, you know, thinking about it," he said. "Obviously I have another year here, and I would like to do all I can to help those guys next year. But this is the best decision for me."

It's tough to make any case against Bailey's move. It's rare that any player leaves school early without a clear-cut first round projection and seems to make the right decision on paper, but if that is ever the case, it is so in this one.

The Mountaineers will miss the star receiver next season, but it's simply time for Bailey to move on.

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