Stedman Bailey had carved out a substantial niche role for himself on the then-St. Louis Rams.
Bailey arrived in the NFL as a third-round pick in 2013, a receiver who the Rams thought would mesh well with quarterback Sam Bradford. By his third season, Bailey was a capable reserve receiver and a good depth piece.
Then came a tragic shooting that put Bailey’s football career on hold. However, Bailey didn’t let two gunshot wounds to the head keep him from attempting an NFL comeback.
Stedman Bailey played three seasons for the Rams
West Virginia had itself a passing offense in the early 2010s.
With Geno Smith under center and Tavon Austin an all-purpose threat, the Mountaineers’ offense was near-unstoppable. Stedman Bailey caught 210 passes for 3,218 yards and 41 touchdowns in his three seasons at WVU.
Bailey’s 1,279 receiving yards in 2012 set a single-season WVU record, while he tied a record with 12 touchdown catches. The dangerous wideout broke both records in 2012, when he hauled in 114 receptions for 1,622 yards and 25 scores.
Bailey never reached that level of productivity in the NFL. The Rams used a third-round pick on Bailey in 2013 — two rounds after drafting Austin — and had mixed results.
Bailey caught 59 passes for 843 yards and two scores in 38 career games and eight starts. He also had a punt return touchdown and a rushing score.
Bailey suffered two gunshot wounds during the 2015 season
Tragedy struck Stedman Bailey and the St. Louis Rams in November 2015.
While a passenger in a car in Miami Gardens, Fla., Bailey suffered two gunshot wounds to the head in a drive-by attack. According to ESPN, the bullets fractured Bailey’s skull and left him in critical condition.
Bailey was home in Florida while serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Barring something miraculous in the coming months and years, Bailey may never play another NFL down.
Stedman Bailey didn’t give up on his comeback dreams
Stedman Bailey’s football journey didn’t end when he was shot.
Bailey worked with the Rams’ assistant coaches in 2016. He later joined West Virginia’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
In March 2018, over two years after the shooting, Bailey worked out at Marshall University’s pro day. Bailey, who had a plate inserted in his skull in October 2017, hoped he could return to the NFL.
Bailey told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch that he “never had a doubt” he would have a chance to play again.
“It kind of hurt with reports from doctors that I may not be able to walk or I may have trouble speaking again. Me, just being a positive person that I am, I just waved those reports off like, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ I set it in my mind to show them differently.”
Bailey, who turned 30 on Wednesday, has not played any professional football since the shooting. He never caught on with the AAF or the rebooted XFL.
It is not impossible that he earns another chance somewhere. But the fact Bailey made it back and showed that much initiative to play again is worth celebrating.