By Jeremy Hritz
Excitement has been generated by the Pittsburgh Steelers selection of wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round. The 22-year-old rookie from Oregon State has been compared to both Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, though he has yet to get a rep in OTAs as he is still attending college classes.
In Sunday\’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Alan Robinson discusses the prospects of Wheaton becoming a productive player in his first season, and he references some high praise that the rookie was the target of from NFL Network analyst, Daniel Jeremiah. Jeremiah calls Wheaton a receiver that is “capable of doing everything” and that he has the “kind of toughness Ward had when he played against Baltimore.” While we definitely want to reserve our judgment before we anoint Wheaton the next Ward, if he can even come close to Ward’s production, the Steelers will have scored a win in the 2013 draft.
Historically, the wide receiver position in the NFL is one where rookies don’t necessarily flourish, though there are exceptions (Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, and A.J. Green all had 1,000+ yard rookie seasons). Being a third round pick, Wheaton doesn’t have the same expectations facing him that Moss, Boldin, or Green did, but is he be capable of producing in a similar way?
Over Wheaton’s career with the Beavers, he caught 227 passes for 2994 yards and 16 touchdowns, recording his most productive season in his senior year, catching 91 balls for 1244 yards and 11 touchdowns. When looking at his receiving statistics from season to season at Oregon State, it is evident that Wheaton improved from year to year, increasing his production by at least 18 catches per season. Wheaton also demonstrated an improvement in his yards per catch over his career, climbing from 11.1 YPC in his freshmen season to 13.7 YPC in his senior year. If we can read anything into his college numbers, it is that he consistently improves. If Wheaton can show continuous improvement in Pittsburgh, he may just be the gem he is being touted to be.
Another element of Wheaton’s game that is worth noting is his ability to run the football. During his four-year career, Wheaton had 83 carries that resulted in 631 yards and five touchdowns. This is the type of versatility that Mike Tomlin puts such a high value on, and there is no doubt he will try to take advantage of it in 2013.
So what type of numbers should we expect from Wheaton in his rookie season, one in which he has yet to get practice repetitions with his teammates? While it may be too much to expect a 1000-yard season, anywhere between 500-700 receiving yards would be laudable.
In Wallace’s first season with the Steelers, he caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns. With Steelers fans eager to forget about Wallace, Wheaton should set his target to eclipse those numbers.
Your turn, what type of production are you expecting from Wheaton in his rookie season? Will he trump Wallace, or fall short?