Explosive, juicy, gaudy — all words used to describe Oklahoma State’s All-American wide receiver.
For the second straight season, Tylan Wallace was in the Biletnikoff Award conversation with his stellar play and premium production.
Then devastation occurred.
The star receiver suffered a non-contact knee injury in October, later confirmed as a torn ACL, which halted his junior season on a sour note. Rather than jump to the NFL, where he was a projected Day Two pick prior to the injury, he opted to return to OSU for another season.
Was that a wise move? The simple answer is yes.
Benjamin Solak, a senior draft analyst for The Draft Network has been following Wallace’s draft stock before and after the injury.
“I remember speaking with guys who said, ‘Yeah we feel comfortable with him going somewhere between 30-50, 30-60, so Round 2,’” Solak said. “But No. 1, the class gets better across the course of time, we know this is a pretty historic wide receiver class, and then obviously Tylan has the injury and we’re viewing him now as a third, possibly a fourth.”
It would have been difficult to evaluate Wallace’s stock had he declared for the 2020 draft. While the wide receiver class improved and deepened, Wallace’s ACL tear would keep him from working out at the NFL combine or at OSU’s Pro Day, further clouding perceptions.
And the questions run deeper than that.
Wallace’s twin brother, Tracin, had three ACL tears in three years before retiring from football. Not just a brother, but Tylan’s twin brother, bringing another level of genetics into the mix. And that may have been another red flag for NFL evaluators who are tasked to look for weaknesses in a player as much as they do strengths.
So, for Wallace, and his decision to go or stay, it was complicated.
Any time an NFL prospect tears his ACL, teams do their due diligence. Solak said teams will thoroughly check out any prospect with such a serious knee injury to be sure the doctors like what they see.
By postponing his leap to the pros, Wallace now has the advantage of time.
Solak said he believes OSU isn’t going to push Wallace, and that the school will allow him to rehab on his own timeline, which should allow Wallace to get back to full form — an advantage some athletes don’t enjoy.
“He’s doing good,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said after the team’s first spring practice. “Guys that are as athletic as Tylan and some of these other guys are ahead of schedule, so now he just needs to stay on course and try not to do too much, and he’ll be fine. He’ll be up and going before long, but we just don’t want him to get too far ahead of himself.”
That comes with a caveat, though. There’s no guarantee Wallace will return to form or stay healthy.
“Everybody, once they tear their ACL once, is more likely to tear it again,” Solak said. “You really get concerned with the brother’s background if when you check out Tylan at the combine next year, he has some weakness in that knee, has some structural damage. Then you start to wonder how much his (Tylan’s) past is mirroring (Tracin’s) traits.
“I think if you start to get some questions about Tylan’s stability, Tracin’s history really starts to concern you.”
That’s the key — Wallace’s knee will need to heal fully, or it will open up a pandora’s box of consequences pertaining to his draft stock. Again.
Brian Johannes, NFL Draft Geek lead analyst, said he thinks Wallace’s decision to return to school will ultimately pay dividends next season.
“I think he has the potential to get in the back of the first round,” Johannes said. “I may grade him as a second-round pick, but just depending on the class – we’ve had some years where the draft class, the receivers were not the greatest – so you have guys get drafted a little higher than they normally would.”
Johannes compares Wallace to Chicago Bears star wide receiver Allen Robinson for Wallace’s ability to high-point balls while using leverage and body control to make plays, despite a lack of top-tier athleticism.
While Robinson was taken late in the second round with athleticism concerns, he’s had a successful NFL career to this point. Wallace is more or less in the same boat — if his knee fully recovers.
While all signs point to Wallace’s return being the right decision, there are some risks for Wallace staying an extra year.
“Any time an NFL draft prospect puts off his decision by a year, it’s always tough to say that’s the right call, because money now versus money later, money later is not a sure thing,” Solak said. “Especially with recovering from an ACL injury, if you never come back to full explosiveness, you’re not going in Round 4 anymore, now you’re going in Round 5 or Round 7.”
There are clearly some risks. And it’s tough to project what will happen until he navigates a successful season. Still, Wallace may have something going for him.
“With Tylan it’s very easy to draw and detail out the past by which he returns to national prominence pretty quickly,” Solak said. “He’s an uber-talented dude. If he’s back and healthy, he’s the best receiver in the Big 12.”