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Browns vs. Steelers: Markus Wheaton starting all over again

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The second-year receiver has shoes to fill and burdens to shoulder, all within the shadows of injuries and large expectations. Add in a favorable match-up on Sunday, and it’s fair to say this might be a make-or-break game in his young career.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

It's a big Sunday for Markus Wheaton. A make-or-(don't)-break situation faces the second-year receiver. We all live for those anxious, dare-to-be-great situations. That's what faces Wheaton when the Steelers take on the Cleveland Browns.

It's safe to say his career didn't start off well. A late graduation cut into his practice time and he sustained multiple broken fingers requiring surgery. A miscommunication allegedly led to a second surgery which cost him pretty much the entire regular season. The surgery this past off-season hopefully fixes the issue for good, but only adds to the intense scrutiny he's facing.

Can he stay healthy? Everyone can, of course, until they can't. Will he adequately replace Emmanuel Sanders? It's unclear right now how difficult that will be, considering Sanders caught only 67 passes on 112 targets (a miserable percentage comparable only to Ravens receivers). These questions won't be completely answered by Sunday at about 4:30 p.m. ET but, at the very least, Wheaton will have an entire game (knock on wood) to advance his best arguments.

His match-up looks pretty advantageous as well. Cleveland's Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden will likely mirror Antonio Brown for most, if not all, of the game. That likely will mean Wheaton won't see one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the game, instead probably getting a healthy dose of rookie Justin Gilbert.

The Steelers were reportedly set to take Justin Gilbert had he fallen to 15, and the Browns traded down with Buffalo to land the Oklahoma State stud.

Maybe Wheaton isn't the stud that Gilbert is in the gym, but how will Gilbert measure up on the field? Wheaton may be the first receiver to test him out and show off a bit of his own athleticism. Wheaton is quite capable of being an explosive player despite being widely considered undersized for his position. But once he breaks away, good luck. Also, as proven during the preseason, he has great hands, the kind of hands that allow QB Ben Roethlisberger to make end-zone corner passes and walk away with six points.

So Wheaton's got the rookie cornerback, the personal expectations coming back from injury, the fan expectations of filling in for a veteran and the team expectations for receivers playing split-end for the Steelers.

And we thought our own make-or-break moments were pressure-packed.

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