The Pittsburgh Steelers lost wide receiver Mike Wallace to free agency this offseason and they addressed his loss in the 2013 NFL draft with the selection of Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round. Wallace of course was known for his explosive plays of 20 yards or more and his ability to the top off of coverages. Will Wheaton become the kind of player to do that?
When you look at Wheaton\’s college stats from last year, you will see that he had 18 catches that went for 20 yards or more. That equates to nearly 20% of his 91 total catches. In addition to that, Wheaton had 31 catches that went for 15 yards or more and that is right around 33% of his total catches.
Wheaton is not quite as fast as Wallace is on the football field, but in time, he could become a deep threat that defenses will have to respect. The only way to earn that respect, however, is to capitalize on the deep balls thrown his direction against cover one and cover three schemes. Until he demands deep respect, the way that Wallace did early on in his career, he will just be considered a wide receiver that can run fast.
So what else does Wheaton bring to the table? According to Second Round Stats, he isn\’t just a deep ball guy, but a short area receiver as well . Their tape study shows that 41% of Wheaton\’s passes caught were thrown to him 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, but that 55% of his catches were from passes thrown to him within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. That leaves the other 3% of his catches coming from passes thrown to him in the 6-10 yard range.
As far as after the catch goes, Wheaton reportedly had a paltry average of 3.48 yards after the catch, and as far as drops go, the Oregon State wide receiver had a 10.2% drop rate. That number is a bit concerning. His yards per screen was low as well, as that came in at just 5.71 yards.
In the tape study that I have done myself on Wheaton, he appears to be well rounded and I was really surprised to learn that drop rate number, and just as surprised to learn that he didn\’t make many catches in the 6-9 yard range. Does this mean that he can\’t at the next level? No.
The Steelers hired Richard Mann to be their new wide receivers coach this past offseason and he is known as one that focuses a lot on technique. While Wheaton might never become the same kind of homerun threat that Wallace was, his skill set and play in college suggest that he might become a much more rounded receiver than Wallace was with solid coaching.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley probably summed up Wheaton the best during his post selection talk with the Pittsburgh media.
“He is a highly productive guy and the numbers aren’t huge from a yards per catch standpoint, but he’s one of the guys that we thought that when the ball is in his hands he really gets even more exciting,” said Haley. “So that leaves the door open to be able to do a lot of things with this guy, which kind of fits with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, so I think he will be a good guy to have in that group and we’ll get him coached up. He does a lot of different things which is always good. And he’s smart and he understands. He is a smart, good football player right now.”