Easy To Put A Finger On Why Wheaton Didn’t Play Much As A Rookie

It wasn’t a memorable rookie season for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton, but it’s easy to put a finger on exactly why. A busted finger, to be exact.

Wheaton, who ended 2013 with just six catches for 64 yards in 164 snaps played, mangled a finger in the Week 4 loss in London to the Minnesota Vikings and as a result missed the next four games.

That down time, along with fellow receivers Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery all well on their way to having solid seasons, kept Wheaton’s play time limited when he finally returned to action in Week 10.

“It was unfortunate, really,” Cotchery told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review back in the middle of December. “He had a strong training camp, he was developing really, really well, and we were starting to get him into a groove. Then he went down, and that stunts your growth a little bit.”

Wheaton, who was mostly relegated to playing on special teams as a rookie, suffered another finger injury in the Week 16 win over the Green Bay Packers but was able to suit up for the season finale against the Cleveland Browns just the same. If you are wondering why Derek Moye played more snaps than Wheaton did in that game, it’s likely because the Oregon State product re-injured that finger again in the fourth quarter as Alex Kozora pointed out is tape breakdown of the game.

Wheaton is an incredibly bright and talented kid and while it might be discouraging to many that his development was slowed as a rookie, he should be able to hit the ground running when OTA sessions get underway in May.

  • steeltown

    Being sidelined all of October after finger surgery sure didn’t help, but more than anything it was Cotchery having a phenomenal year. People ask why he didn’t see the field more or supplant Cotchery on the depth chart, they point to Emmanuel Sanders rookie year and say hey look what he did, but those are two different stories altogether.. Sanders was behind Ward, Wallace and Randle El after being drafted in ’10 and Randle El had maybe 250yds and 0TDs that season, in other words he was easy to pass on the depth chart whereas Wheaton was behind Brown, Sanders and Cotchery and as we all know Cotch led the Team with 10TDs

  • Luke Shabro

    Beautiful pun Dave lol. I have to agree with steeltown. Who saw Cotchery having the crazy year he did. All of us that listen to the TP know he was money on 3rd down but man what a resurgence. It was like the opposite of when the Bengals signed Laveranues Coles. Good stuff

  • Callentown

    As far as I’m concerned, while it would have been nice to get Wheaton more game time, once the Steelers decided to keep Manny Sanders, Wheaton was never going to be the #2 this season.

    Great to see Cotchery have such a strong season on important downs for sure. Replacing, Manny with another team player will help this team next season.

    Next season, he’ll be a good #2!

  • Callentown

    Nice points Steeltown.

    I believe the reason Cotchery had such a strong season is because we didn’t have the usual TE option for Ben on important third downs for most of the season.

    Cotch benefited by playing that role – and well. I don’t think Wheaton would have been used in that capacity as a rookie.

  • Rubem Dornas

    Watch your fingers, Markus.

  • BurgherinMD

    I think also L. Bell’s abilities as a 3rd down threat combined with their often no-huddle offense made it less likely for Wheaton to see the field. The Steelers rarely utilize four wides anymore and instead try to keep the best five pass catchers on period. Agreed though the aforementioned Cotchery definitely the reason he never rose above third on the depth chart.

  • Virdin Barzey

    For a receiver, fingers are your life blood. Hope he get better since I agree that he will be better than Sanders. I fully expect Sanders to leave so playing time will not be an issue next year. We didn’t need him as much this year but we sure will next year so stay healthy my friend. Even with his messed up fingers, I have more confidence in him catching the ball than Sanders.

    I’m really liking our offensive weapons next year with Brown, Heath, Cotch, Wheat, Bell and Ben. Moye needs to step his game up and the line needs to take another step forward. We fix that defense and it could be a year to make a run. Oh yeah, keep this group healthy. Just saying.

  • Chad H

    Good point and also Cotchery is a dependable receiver like Ward.

  • Rick M

    It won’t be popular to say, but little to nothing was shown to guarantee a healthy Wheaton will be a good #2 receiver in the NFL. Yes, he had a good college career like every receiver selected in the NFL draft. But that means nothing. The proof is production on the field and that wasn’t there mostly, but not totally, because of the finger injury. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy in 2014 and prove his college production can translate well to the pros.

  • AndyR34

    I fully agree, Rick…and maybe most importantly, Wheaton missed all of the pre-camp activities…thus starting behind the proverbial 8-ball. He showed potential, but never anything to supplant Sanders or Cotchery. If Sanders leaves, I am hoping that Wheaton develops into a comparable receiver.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Yes and no. Yes, it would have been nice to see a larger sample size of Wheaton’s talent, but he did make some very nice grabs in the preseason, and he was RIGHT THERE on a few deep post routes in the regular season (beating his man) that Ben simply missed (under or overthrown). Not his fault there. The intelligence and talent are there. I’m not worried about his development, personally.

  • Matthew Blount

    I agree COMPLETELY. And I still think they should have let Sanders go to the Pats and get that extra draft pick this year. Loads of good receivers in this year’s draft. 10-12 guys expected to go in 1-2… that will never happen. 5-6 receivers per round will simply NOT happen. This is a great draft year for WRs. We should have let Sanders go last year. I’d also like to point out that he had several dropped passes in the first 4 games… of which were all losses. He came on later in the season, but we paid too much for him still. Cotch is great! We need to re-sign him. He’s smart, saavy, great route runner, never drops the ball. He finds the gaps in the zone. I just hope he doesn’t start looking for big money. I don’t think he’d get it in FA, but who knows… these days teams are paying out the nose for almost nothing and Cotch is definitely something.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    He also missed the entire off season program last year, which couldn’t have helped his development. I really liked him at OSU, but it would have been nice to see him seize more of a role on the team this year.

  • Rick M

    Right or wrong Strength, I don’t put much stock in exhibition game results as you’re not playing against first stringers most of the time. Glad you feel good about him though, and definitely hope your prediction pans out.

  • Rick M

    Agree Andy that he had some obstacles in 2013 (no pre-camp activities and injuries). Fingers crossed for 2014 as we’ll need production from him.

  • pittsburghjoe

    We need him to put up solid numbers next year as a number 2 WR. I would like Cotch back but in a 3 role, not 2. The wild card would potentially be a high round rookie pick. If they draft one in rounds one or two, you would expect an immediate impact. However, it takes WR a little longer to learn the game and I dont think you can expect much from them as a rookie. Solid contribution, yes…Count on them, no. We are counting on Wheaton in his second year.

  • cp72

    Cothchery had a nice year but he is no where near Hines Ward. Hines was all time great Steeler and much more than “dependable”.

  • alex

    Cotch will be invaluable next year as the veteran within the WR group for one more year to teach Wheaton and Moye, and then give way to Brown as the veteran lead.

  • Chad H

    I meant dependable in fact that he doesn’t drop the ball only. Sorry for the confusion.