Steelers’ Markus Wheaton in 2015


After a stellar rookie campaign, Martavis Bryant  looks like a steal from the Steelers’ 2014 draft class. But, Bryant’s success and Antonio Brown’s stardom are outshining another receiver on the rise.

Markus Wheaton’s rookie season in 2013 was basically a redshirt year. He totalled six catches for sixty-four yards. With Ben Roethlisberger focused on getting the ball to Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery, the opportunities for Wheaton were limited.

Still, the Steelers were comfortable letting Sanders and Cotchery walk in free agency prior to the 2014 season. That bumped Wheaton from the fourth wide receiver in the lineup to number two.

The Steelers did bring in veteran free agent Lance Moore to add some depth to the position, but it seemed that the job was Wheaton’s to win.

The insertion of Martavis Bryant into the lineup for the Steelers’ week seven game of the season was an indicator that the coaching staff wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the receivers behind Brown.

As we all know, Bryant went on to have a great ten games in his first season as a professional. He only caught twenty-six balls, but eight went for touchdowns and he averaged over twenty yards per catch.

That caught everyone’s attention. And Wheaton has been in the shadows ever since.

Looking at the numbers from his first two years Wheaton is certainly a player to watch too. His impact went from hovering around zero to catch, yardage, and touchdown totals as good as current Bronco Emmanuel Sanders had in any of his first three years as a Steeler.

The difference is that Wheaton was the number two wide receiver last year. Sanders was the third or even fourth in his first three years. When he did move up to the number two spot, his numbers were certainly better than Wheaton’s 2014 numbers–though not by a landslide.

Sanders, however, had the advantage of being a fourth year pro with plenty of experience in the offense by the time he became number two behind Brown. Wheaton did it after a single season of very limited contribution.

Wheaton also had to contend with the emergence of Le’Veon Bell as an elite receiving threat. While Bell was certainly involved in the passing game when Sanders became a full time number two receiver, his 2014 receiving column looked like a stat sheet for a wide receiver. No doubt this ate into Wheaton’s opportunities.

Wheaton is trending up. He is a speedster with decent hands and a desire to put the work in. He is overshadowed on an offense of superstars. He turned twenty-four years old a little over a month ago. There is plenty to like here.

The Steelers lost their wild card matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in January. In that game Markus Wheaton had a pretty average night. However, he did catch five of six passes thrown his way and four of those five went for first downs–that’s one fewer first down than Antonio Brown had on his nine catches and fourteen targets.

Wheaton isn’t going to wake up in September and be 6’4” and weigh 210 pounds. He might not be running past defenses for ninety-four yard touchdowns and he may never ascend to the elite level of Antonio Brown. He can, however, become a reliable and intelligent receiver that can move the chains when needed. There is a need for that.

Next: DE Geathers Re-signed

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