The dramatic decrease in talent at the wide receiver position on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster has been well documented this offseason. I know that I have been as big of a critic of the wide receiver situation as anyone, but the situation may not be as dire as it seems. The one man that holds the key to the success of the Steelers passing game as much as anyone else is Markus Wheaton.
The second year receiver had a disappointing year, to say the least, last year. Much of that disappointment was due to injuries that lingered throughout the year. If he is able to get over his injury issues, he could be in for a huge improvement on his rookie campaign. There is no question that the skills are there, it is only a matter of putting it all together.
There may not be any better offense in the league for him to put it all together in. His skill set is a perfect match for Todd Haley’s vertical passing game. Wheaton is an incredibly fast receiver, but he is also very quick on underneath routes and an outstanding route runner. He will be able to provide the dangerous deep threat that the team has seriously lacked ever since the departure of Mike Wallace via free agency. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are both fast, but neither are near as fast as Wheaton. Not to mention that they are players who play quicker than fast.
The Steelers have had success with selecting receivers in the middle rounds of the draft in the past and that is exactly where Wheaton was
selected last year. The receivers that have gone on to be starters recently also didn’t put up huge number in their rookie season, either. They did all, except for Emmanuel Sanders, come return with bounce back sophomore campaigns, however. Wheaton has a chance to do just the same.
The Steelers’ receivers have set the bar very high recently for second year receivers. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are the two that instantly come to mind, and they both posted upwards of 1,000 yards in their sophomore campaigns. While Wheaton is certainly capable of reaching those numbers, it isn’t very likely that he will. He will all but likely have numbers that are very similar to the ones Jerricho Cotchery posted last year, save the touchdowns. Last year Cotch posted 46 receptions, 602 yards, and touchdowns. If Wheaton can replicate all of Cotch’s numbers except for the touchdowns, which I think we can assume will be cut in half, I think he will have had a successful season.
You can’t rule out the possibility that Wheaton will be plagued by injuries again, either. As every football fan knows an injury prone player has trouble escaping from the injuries, and while Wheaton surely can’t be declared injury prone yet, he is well on his way. All it takes is for him to re-injure his finger that was broken last year, and he will be relegated back to reserve duties. I would prefer to not think about the negative, however.
Coming out of the draft last year I thought Wheaton had all of the skills needed to make an immediate impact in the big leagues. There is no reason to think that if he can stay healthy he won’t be able to make that impact in his second season, and with Antonio Brown still on the roster, and arguably one of the three best receivers in the league, Wheaton won’t have to put up huge numbers to meet expectations. He will have to provide Big Ben with a solid option as a number two receiver, however. If he can put up around 50 receptions, 600 yards, and 3-5 touchdowns I will be completely satisfied.