Taken in the third round of the draft last year, Markus Wheaton registered just 6 catches for 64 yards. In a way, Wheaton’s rookie season seemed destined for failure from the start, as he missed his first training camp due to NCAA regulations meaning he couldn’t meet up with his new team mates and fellow rookies until he graduated. While still playing catch-up with the playbook and NFL speed, Wheaton broke his pinkie finger in week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings in the International Series game in London. Shortly after returning, he broke another finger, this time his middle finger, effectively ending any shot he may have had at significant production in his rookie season.
Prior to his injury, Wheaton was becoming a more significant part of the Steelers’ game plan. Against the Vikings, he was lining up all over the formation, in the slot and on the perimeter, and being used in motion. It was clear that the Vikings were afraid of Wheaton’s speed, as a fake end-around on which he was used as a decoy resulted in a big gain for Le’Veon Bell. However, as we’ve all seen, the injury bug can bite at any time, and in every crisis, there is opportunity. Jerricho Cotchery performed admirably as the Steelers’ #3 WR, ending the season with 46 catches for 602 yards and 10 (!!!) touchdowns.
This season, it looks to be Wheaton’s turn to take advantage of a similar opportunity. With Emmanuel Sanders looking set to depart in free agency, ESPN believes Wheaton’s snaps should at least triple this season. Cotchery himself is also a free agent, and while he is expected to return, at this stage in his career is he best suited as a #3 or #4 wideout. Even if the Steelers draft a big-bodied wideout like they’ve allegedly promised Ben Roethlisberger, Wheaton’s role in the offense is sure to be a significant one.
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Now, I would like to point out that I am a huge Steelers fan, but that shouldn’t be misconstrued as me looking at the situation with rose-tinted glasses. Like any real fan, I’m very critical of the team I love, rather than constantly showering them with praise. Because I study the Steelers so much, I feel better equipped to predict who can make an impact for them than any other team. Last season, while many were still down on him, questioning his agility and speed, I thought Le’Veon Bell could have a huge impact as a rookie running back. (Self-congratulatory side note – I predicted Bell 1523 total yards and 11 total TDs – the numbers he put up in his 13 games extrapolated over 16 games would have been 1549 total yards and 11 total TDs). I genuinely believe that Wheaton can have a similar impact in his second season in a best-case scenario.
While he is a small receiver, Wheaton’s physical skill set is exceptional. At 189lbs, he put up 20 reps in the bench press, tied for third amongst WRs in last year’s combine, and tied for fourth amongst this year’s participants. THAT IS ONE BENCH PRESS REPETITION LESS THAN JADEVEON CLOWNEY. His 37″ broad jump tied Cordarrelle Patterson’s last year, and we saw just how explosive a weapon Patterson is last season. His 4.02 20-yard shuttle was just 0.01 slower than the 8th pick in the draft, Tavon Austin. He placed second in the 60-yard shuttle, a quarter second faster than current dynasty darling Da’Rick Rodgers. NFL.com‘s grading system had him rated as a “Perennial All-Pro“.
Obviously, the knock on Wheaton is that these (highly impressive) measurables have to be trotted out rather than in-game statistics or even any NFL game tape. I wish I could provide you with some, but it just doesn’t exist, through a series of unfortunate events. We do have some nice college highlights here:
Per DLF’s Feburary ADP, Wheaton is currently the 117th player coming of the board in dynasty mocks, behind David Wilson, a player who legitimately may never play again, and a raft of rookie players. Now is the time to strike, when the iron is hot. Much of the wider world is not aware of Wheaton’s combination of talent and opportunity, yet. And taking advantage of these situations is the key to building a successful dynasty team.
While targeting Wheaton will take a leap of faith to a degree, it’s the smart move at the minute. The cost will never be lower than right now, and the rewards could be huge. I can see Wheaton’s value (and role) following a similar trajectory to another hot name in the fantasy community, Kendall Wright. Wright’s rookie season consisted of 64 catches for 626 yards and 4 scores, with his sophomore campaign resulting in over 1,000 receiving yards. In his first full season (fingers crossed), it’s not unreasonable to expect Wheaton to put up similar stats to Wright’s rookie numbers, though likely with fewer catches for more yards per catch. Frankly, that looks to be a worst-case scenario, and there’s a very real possibility he could put up a line closer to Wright’s second season. Wright’s current ADP is 50, and of the two, I’d rather have a similarly talented player with a much better quarterback, at a much discounted rate.
My advice, friends – get on the Markus Wheaton bandwagon while there’s still room.
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