Aug 29, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton (11) runs after making a catch against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Can Markus Wheaton Meet Steelers Fans' Lofty Expectations?


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

Sep 29, 2013; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton (11) during the NFL International Series game against the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Steelers 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Tags: Antonio Brown Jericho Cotchery Markus Wheaton Pittsburgh Steelers

  • SDAZT_STEEL

    He was solid in that Detroit game last year, and the offense looked really good when they employed 3 & 4 wide sets. As long as Haley utilizes the speed he has on offense to set up the ground game instead of idiotically bunching boxes w/jumbo sets & 2 & 3 TE packages, Wheaton & the rest of the WRs should be in good shape.

    • Anthony Chiado

      Agreed!

  • PJ_CA

    Let’s see: The Steelers brought in Moore, Heyward-Bey, and drafted Bryant and Archer. There is also speculation that they might bring back Holmes. That doesn’t sound, to me, like they have supreme confidence that Wheaton can be a difference maker on offense. I can’t say that a guy that had 6 receptions last season gives me the “warm and fuzzies” either.

    • SDAZT_STEEL

      What speculation is there that they might bring back Holmes? All Ike Taylor, not the FO, said is that he wanted to return. Holmes’ interest in coming back means squat if the FO doesn’t want him.

    • Anthony Chiado

      Moore is an aging wide receiver who shouldn’t be anything other than a slot receiver, Heyward-Bey can’t do anything except run a deep route and then drop the ball, Bryant is raw and isn’t anywhere near ready to be a big contributor, and Archer is way too small to handle regular receiver duties. I seriously doubt that they bring back Holmes, and even if they do he would have to beat out Wheaton. The reason that Wheaton only had 6 catches last season was because he had lingering injuries. If he can stay healthy he should be significantly better this season.

      • PJ_CA

        Moore (31 at the start of the season) is a year younger than Cotchery (32), and he has had better production throughout his career than Cotchery. So “aging” is true, but it would be no different than had the Steelers brought Cotch back. Hayward-Bey is obviously not the answer, he was brought in as depth, that’s all – he isn’t even assured a roster spot, he can easily be cut in camp. Bryant is raw, true, but he is what Wheaton isn’t, the BIG redzone target Ben has been asking for.
        I am not saying Wheaton is Limas Sweed (who? exactly), however, he has been injury prone and that hinders development – it has to, how do you develop as a receiver and build a rapport with the QB when you are sidelined? Personally, I don’t want them to bring Holmes back, I don’t think he’s worth the headache that could accompany him.

        • Anthony Chiado

          While Moore is a year younger than Cotchery, I would much rather have Cotch for this coming year. Moore’s age should affect him more than Cotchery because Moore relies more on speed, while Jericho relies on his route running ability and reliable hands. Those shouldn’t be affected too much by age.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I don’t know Wheaton will catch as many balls as Sanders however, all signs point to him being a better route runner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wheaton have more TD’s than 6.

    I think 50 – 55 catches and 7-8 TD’s are within reach if he stays healthy this year. We shall see.

  • Sean

    I could not dissagree more. If you watched Wheaton in the preseason game last year, he caught an amazing pass overthrown to him. He reached up and grabbed it, fell backwards and kept his feet inbounds. It’s just a gut reaction, but I think he will be the next Lynn Swann. He will become an amazing receiver and blow people away. Just my prediction.