The more I watch Steelers third round draft pick, wide receiver Markus Wheaton of Oregon State, the more I like him.
Most times, evaluation is done based on what a player does when actively engaged in the play or within the respective tasks he's supposed to accomplish within his team. There are times when watching what that player is not doing, or right after he does something, that really tells you who he is.
Wheaton had an awful game against the Beavers' arch rival, Oregon, in the team's second to last game of the year. It was another one-sided Civil War, as the Ducks crushed the Beavers, winning their fifth consecutive game in the rivalry.
While Wheaton had seven catches for 98 yards - a decent game, for sure - he dropped two passes that absolutely should have been caught and he made a poor decision in trying to field a punt away from him. He muffed it and Oregon had yet another takeaway in a game that was never really competitive.
Wheaton also made a phenomenal catch on a 37-yard post-corner route and looked surprisingly fluid and powerful out of his breaks - so much so, you'll never see me writing about comparisons to Mike Wallace again, Wheaton is way ahead of Wallace in terms of route running. He fought hard against an aggressive Oregon defense that clearly felt their best chance against him was to beat him up. He attacked the ball on comeback routes and caught with his hands when necessary, and protected the ball when necessary.
His demeanor seemed the same after big plays and mistakes. He made some of each. He didn't over-celebrate or over-emphasize disappointment. At the risk of hyperbole, Wheaton plays the man's game, and he plays the game like a man. While his focus slips a bit at times, he's a physical, blue-collar kind of player.
Coaches have to absolutely love this guy.
Someone mentioned earlier how Wheaton reminded him of Reggie Wayne, and I completely agree. Both are outstanding athletes, but with both of them, there's a sense of space that isn't all that common. Wheaton is a physical receiver, contrary to some reports, and while he may not be the strongest receiver on the field, he battles hard and fights with a pure sense of backyard, spontaneous football.
In the Beavers' 27-23 road loss to Stanford, he showed much of the same, but with fewer mistakes. He dropped what would have been a spectacular catch on a 3rd-and-short play late in the game (defensive back had his arm and Wheaton lost it as he was going to the ground), he showed outstanding body control and positioning on a slant pattern he took for a first down after flipping the cornerback right on his break.
He's already an outstanding route runner, and his background in track (ran a 10.5 100 meter while in college) is apparent. He runs with great balance, which is why he's able to get so much acceleration out of his breaks.
Oregon State beat the tar out of Cal, and again, Wheaton had seven catches and 99 yards. What's clear is the amount of different ways the Beavers used to get Wheaton the ball. He had another drop, which is caused by a combination of poor throwing (two Beavers quarterbacks during this stretch of games, one is clearly better than the other but neither are outstanding) and a lack of focus. That's one negative, he's dropping a few easy catches.
He's a killer on the drag route, though, and that's going to be something the Steelers will utilize. His speed gives him the ability to earn a cushion from a defensive back, but he's a great underneath receiver and knows how to run in the open field.
As SB Nation's Oregon State site, Building the Dam, wrote, "Another thing an NFL team won't find are any problems in the locker room or off the field either. Wheaton was always that lead by example person, a hard worker in practice, and a trouble-free student and solid member of the community."
To sum it up a bit more simply, Wheaton is a steal in the third round, and the Steelers have found themselves an outstanding football player.