Expectations For Steelers Rookie WR Markus Wheaton In 2013 Need To Be Tempered

Marc Sessler of NFL.com wrote on Friday that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Marcus Wheaton “has a chance to see plenty of playing time on passing downs” in 2013, which leads one to believe that the Oregon State product has a chance to be mighty productive in only his first year in the league. While I enjoy Sessler\’s optimism, expectations for Wheaton in 2013 should be tempered quite a bit.

For starters, only 10 Steelers wide receivers have had more than 30 receptions during their rookie season in the history of the franchise and only four, Troy Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Antwaan Randle El and Louis Lipps have managed to crack the 40 reception mark during that same span of time.

Mike Wallace managed to catch 39 passes during his rookie season, but the Steelers had no choice but to put him on the field as a third receiver right from the start, because the only other options at that time were Limas Sweed and Shaun McDonald. Wallace tallied 638 offensive snaps during his rookie season as a result of lack of competition, and that included him playing 28 or more snaps in every single game that year.

Unless Wheaton beats out veteran Jerricho Cotchery in training camp, which is very unlikely to happen, he will at best be the fourth wide receiver on the depth chart to start the season. He could even be fifth on depth chart to start the season should Plaxico Burress also make the 53 man roster.

After the first quarter of the season, baring injuries of course, Wheaton will be doing well to jump ahead of Cotchery on the depth chart. However, even if he should accomplish that feat, out of the 1,023 non-penalty plays run by the Steelers offense in 2012, only 545 of them featured personnel groupings with three or more wide receivers and only 12 of those plays included four receivers on the field at the same time. In addition, of those 545 plays, only 379 of them were passes.

Emmanuel Sanders, who is now the Steelers No. 2 wide receiver now that Wallace is gone, managed to register 490 snaps of playing time on offense during his rookie season in 2010 and that only equated to 28 catches on 49 targets for 376 yards and two touchdowns. Wheaton will be doing well to see that much playing time as a rookie, so 30 catches definitely appears to be his ceiling as a result. If he exceeds that mark, it likely means that either Sanders or Antonio Brown missed considerable time due to injury.

The future certainly is bright for Wheaton, but I think you can clearly see that we shouldn\’t expect much out of him until 2014, when he will at worst be a full-time No. 3 wide receiver depending on what happens contractually with Sanders.

Top 10 Steelers Rookie Wide Receivers 1933-2012

RkPlayerYearAgeDraftGGSRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Troy Edwards1999221-131666171411.70544.6
2Santonio Holmes2006221-251644982416.82251.5
3Antwaan Randle El2002232-621604748910.40230.6
4Louis Lipps1984221-231484586019.11961.4
5Mike Wallace2009233-841643975619.38647.3
6Charles Johnson1994221-171693857715.18336.1
7Henry Minarik1951248-921103545913.11141.7
8Jimmy Orr19582325-2911203391027.58775.8
9Ron Shanklin1970222-281403069123.03449.4
10Dave L. Smith1970238-1841403045815.27232.7