Markus Wheaton has never been the sexiest name on the Steelers depth chart, but that's the reason he could be overlooked.
Heading into a contract season, the receiver once drafted to replace Mike Wallace has had a quiet tenure in Pittsburgh. Last season, Wheaton set career highs in receiving yards (749) and touchdowns (5) which appear to be low totals when compared to the behemoth numbers put up by Antonio Brown, and the stellar stats put up by the now-suspended Martavis Bryant.
However, Wheaton could be in line for a huge 2016 season.
With Bryant out for the year, one of the Steelers receivers will have to step up their production. Initially, many felt that Ladarius Green, signed to replace the retired Heath Miller, would be a similar-sized body to pickup what Bryant left behind. Now that Green is on the PUP list to start the season, not only does the WR corps have to make up for Bryant's numbers, but they will also have to share the load left behind by Heath: a total of 173 targets between both players during the 2015 regular season.
Many felt Wheaton was in a similar position to start the 2015 season, when Bryant was suspended the first four games of the year, as well as missing the fifth game due to injury: Markus' stat line fell short, but for a variety of reasons.
First, it was the absence of another Steeler, not Bryant, that hurt Wheaton's start: after being targeted 7 times in the first game (3 catches for 55 yards) number 11 would fall victim to the same perils of other Steelers (Antonio Brown) when Michael Vick took the reins from Ben Roethlisberger, midway through the team's 3rd game of the season. With Ben on the shelf, Wheaton's targets, and thus catches, dropped.
While Ben would return, portions of those games following would be met with Vick and/or Landry Jones under center: it wasn't until the final 6 games of the 2015 campaign that we would witness what could be the coming out party for Markus Wheaton. The party started in Seattle, where Wheaton torched the Seahawks with 9 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown.
He would end the season scoring 4 of his 5 TDs in the final 6 games, with a lot more targets along that stretch too (47 to be exact) which means the lack of a Bryant, Miller or Green, along with a 3-game suspension for Le'Veon Bell to start the year, this could mean a significant uptick in targets to start 2016. Bell especially is a target monster; DeAngelo Williams will have his fair share, but I suspect Wheaton will get involved often and early, much like Emmanuel Sanders did in his contract year.
Without Martavis on the field to consume targets and touchdowns, one might label Wheaton a "sleeper" which means he could be due for a breakout season.
Barring a shoulder injury, which Mike Tomlin called "day-to-day," in an offense poised to put up points, I would suggest nothing less.