In the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a wide receiver with much potential for a promising professional career. The wide receiver from Oregon State earned First team All PAC-12 honors during his senior year, only adding to his successful resume’. Primed to come in and make an immediate impact, he could have never predicted the roller coaster his first two years in the league have turned out to be.
Markus Wheaton would have a lackluster year in his inaugural season. With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery rounding out the top three receiver positions, there was a small window of opportunity for the 5’11” rookie to get on the field. Making appearances in only twelve games, he would net only 64 yards on six receptions. (Not bad, seeing as Limas Sweed only had six catches for 69 yards in his three year stint with the team.)
Entering his sophomore year in the league, he was expected to come into his own as a starter. With Sanders signed by the Denver Broncos and Cotchery now a Carolina Panther, it left the door wide open for Wheaton to claim the second spot on the depth chart. In week one of 2014, against the Cleveland Browns, he would show he could be a serviceable #2 option by tying his total catches in 2013, and gaining 97 yards.
Over the next five games he would amass 18 catches for 180 yards. Decent yardage for a receiver playing opposite of Antonio Brown, who caught for 513 yards in the same five game stretch. In week seven, a rookie wide recevier would imerge and do two things in one game: Give Ben Roethlisberger a deep threat that he had long coveted for years and challenge Wheaton for his position on the roster.
Martavis Bryant‘s performance in the second half of the year set him up to become the Steelers Z receiver. The 6’,4″, big bodied wide out has all the dimensions it takes to excel at his position, so it only makes sense to place him across from Brown. Wheaton now takes on the role of a slot receiver, but this in no way is a sign of a demotion. With the way the Steelers passing attack has evolved, the slot receiver is on the field for a significant amount of time.
Even with three talented receivers already on their roster, the Steelers saw fit to select a receiver in the first four rounds for a third straight year. Sammie Coates would be selected in the third round of this year’s draft and, once again, questions flared. It seems that many are high on Coates to come in and remove Wheaton from the equation without even playing a down of professional football.
There have been multiple scenarios where Wheaton is considered a “cap casualty” or is put on the trading block by the Steelers during next year’s offseason. Teams in desperate need of a quality wide receiver would give up draft picks in order to obtain him. Many are adamant in their belief that there is no way Wheaton’s future is with the Steelers’ organization.
If they are smart, they will watch as Wheaton develops into a prime receiver for Pittsburgh in the next two years. With the Lance Moore experiment deemed a failure, this gives Wheaton full reign to take the slot position and build upon it. There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the role he will be playing on offense in 2015.
Defenses are going to do their best to cover both Brown and Bryant. While both are difficult to defend, passing to a double covered receiver is not always the best solution. If Wheaton is left unopposed, this will give him ample opportunity to have the ball in his hands and make big plays. After failing to firmly plant Moore and Justin Brown in the slot position last year, the Steelers now have players with dynamic playing ability in all three positions on the field.
In addition to being a great inside receiver, he cause be placed back on the outside should an emergency occur. Injuries run rampant in the NFL, and the Steelers have been fortunate not to have many in their receiving corps over the past few years. Should the unthinkable happen, Wheaton has the experience, and chemistry with Ben, to be plugged back into an outside role for an extended period of time.
Just as many are not high on Wheaton having a future with the Steelers, the same can be said about Coates. Time will only tell if he pans out to have an impactful career in Pittsburgh, or if he will follow in the long time of high round selections who couldnt cut it. He missed many games in his time at Auburn, so we will see if that has any effect on his professional career.
Nov 2, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton (11) catches a forty-seven yard touchdown pass against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb (21) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 43-23. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Steelers have two more seasons to make a decision on what they will do in terms of Markus Wheaton’s future with the team. Should he faulter it will be an easy decision to let him walk in free agency, but it is unlikely that will be the case. He has done nothing but progress in his two years in the league, and it is a sure thing that will continue. Wheaton will prove his worth and make it hard for the Steelers not to resign him when the time comes.
No matter who is starting ahead of who on the depth chart, one thing is certain: The Steelers have a dangerous quartet of wide receivers that will wreck havoc on defenses as they attempt to capitalize on what they achieved last season and progress even further on their way to a seventh championship.
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