The Pittsburgh Steelers received terrible news when wide receiver Martavis Bryant was suspended for a full season due to violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. The team has many options at the wide receiver position but fourth-year receiver Markus Wheaton truly wants to step up and provide for his team.
Wheaton was selected in third-round of the 2013 NFL draft and has become the team's primary starting wide receiver across from Antonio Brown but has not always had the targets to showcase it. Last season, Wheaton started in eight games and caught 44 passes, racking up a total of 749 yards, earning a career-high 5 touchdowns, and averaging an impressive 17 yards per reception.
Some may question his ability to become a deep vertical threat receiver now that Bryant is facing his suspension, but today we are going to break down his impressive performance against the Seattle Seahawks, and focus on how Wheaton could be as successful or even more successful than Martavis Bryant.
Ability to beat man coverage
When you're an NFL receiver you should be able to beat man-to-man coverage. Markus Wheaton's route running skills are his biggest asset when the Steelers are up against man coverage. In a week 15 matchup against the Denver Broncos, Wheaton and cornerback Bradley Roby are matched up against one another in the slot position. Roby being one of the better young cornerbacks in the league makes this a key matchup in a game between a team with the best receivers in the league against a team with the best cornerbacks.
Wheaton's footwork allows him to get the out route that Roethlisberger is looking for and makes for a routine touchdown.
Impressive speed to get past defenders
In a week 12 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, Wheaton showed fans a glimpse of what he has to truly offer. The Seahawks star corner Richard Sherman was covering Antonio Brown the entire game. This opens up the playbook for the fourth-year receiver just trying to showcase his true potential. He caught 9 receptions for a total of 201 yards and earned a touchdown against a top defensive backfield called the Legion of Boom.
Everyone knows the two top receivers on Pittsburgh are being covered by the corners as well as the safeties. This gives Wheaton an opportunity to showcase his impressive speed. He runs past his man and takes advantage of the safeties watching both Brown and Bryant. By the time the defense has realized he is streaking down the middle of the field, Kam Chancellor and company are too out of position to stop Wheaton from scoring.
Struggles at attacking the football
While no athlete can be perfect, Wheaton has a tendency to struggle at attacking the football. Often there are times where he will let the football get into his frame rather than attacking it at the highest point. In the Divisional against the Denver Broncos, Wheaton had a jump ball against Aqib Talib but tried to catch the ball with his body instead of his hands. While this play also exhibits good coverage from Talib, it's an example of a problem that Wheaton occasionally has shown in his career.
Wheaton is ready
The former third round pick out of Oregon State has steadily improved each year he has been with Pittsburgh and fans can expect the same for the 2016-2017 season. The question will be whether or not he can earn his keep among the deep wide receiver corps of the Pittsburgh Steelers as this is his contract year. Wheaton would go for decent money on the free agent market this season and it becomes a real question if Pittsburgh can afford to keep him with many other young stars which the team needs to sign in the near future.
The best thing right now is that the Steelers get Wheaton at least for this year while Bryant recuperates for a season. If Wheaton makes his mark on the 2016 team and helps them to a Super Bowl season, lookout for one of the bigger free agent stories in the 2017 year.