Competition For Starting Wide Receiver Spot Will Reap Rewards

Given the quality depth present throughout the 2014 draft class, and particularly within the wide receiver ranks, some have viewed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of Martavis Bryant in the middle of the fourth round a potential ‘steal’ later on down the road.

Others have attempted to read between the lines and slide Bryant into the starting lineup at wide receiver across from Antonio Brown.

While it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, the Steelers likely are not banking on it; as has regularly been discussed this offseason, the team is projecting a significant leap from second-year former third-round wide receiver Markus Wheaton, whose rookie season was truncated by a pair of finger injuries.

While Wheaton has yet to prove much more than Bryant has one the professional level—he caught six passes for 64 yards as a rookie—the fact that the Steelers have two young receivers hungry to compete for a very open spot in the starting lineup can only be a good thing.

Wheaton spent much of his rookie season buried on the wide receiver depth chart behind veterans Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery, with the knowledge that he was drafted more for the future than for immediate contributions.

With both Sanders and Cotchery now gone—replaced only by Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey—Wheaton now finds himself likely in the driver’s seat for a spot in the starting lineup after playing 161 snaps as a rookie, including lengthy action in three games.

Bryant could have something to say about that during training camp and the preseason.

His main advantage is offering a physical skill set not matched by anybody else near the top of the depth chart—a tantalizing combination of 6’4”, 210-pound size and 4.4 speed.

While Derek Moye can make the claim of a similar skill set, the truth of the matter is that Bryant has far more upside. Moye—and Justin Brown—are fighting a steep uphill battle for a roster spot that neither may get.

Especially if Bryant succeeds early on in his career, because the advantage that Moye and Brown had in their favor last season was a monopoly on size in the wide receiver room, with both being over 6’2”.

Antonio Brown is just 5’10”; Wheaton is 5’11”. New slot receiver Moore stands at just 5’9”. Adding Bryant’s five-inch minimum height advantage into the mix provides the Steelers a different look at the position that they obviously crave.

But he doesn’t have to be in the starting lineup for the Steelers to get that look. Wheaton remains the more realistic option for the starting spot, though that can change as the offseason wears on into training camp and the preseason.

Wheaton came into the league last season with the reputation of being a polished and knowledgeable receiver who runs fluid routes. Bryant’s game has yet to progress that far; he’s largely gotten by on his athleticism.

Pitting those two against each other will make the team better. A number of clichés can be cited here, such as “two dogs one bone” and “steel sharpens steel”.

But clichés become clichés because of the truth value that they possess at their core, and I believe the summer competition between Wheaton and Bryant, with the carrot of a starting spot at the end of the stick, will make both better players for the Steelers.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Steelers12328882

    Best case scenario: Wheaton starts with Moore in the slot, and DHB/Bryant contributing as the 4th receiver. Worst case scenario: Wheaton gets hurt again and Bryant is too raw to get on the field, leaving DHB and Moore as your 2nd and 3rd receivers with no depth. I think Wheaton securing the 2nd receiver position may be more important to the Steelers than whatever’s going on at DE opposite Heyward.

  • Kurt Williams

    Nice article. The wr competition will be one of the most exciting when camp starts just based on the unlimited potential of Wheaton and Bryant. Let’s hope these guys stay healthy and both have a significant contribution to the offense.

  • steeltown

    Nice problem to have.. I have feeling (barring injury) that Moye’s days may be numbered, J.Brown still has practice squad eligibility so even if somehow Heyward-Bey excels and makes the squad as #5, JB could still stick on the PS

  • shawn

    Ya looks that way … i think Moye is the odd man out, no reason to get rid of JB … i mean really he is a completely different WR than Bryant …( more of a possession move the chains guy) and not to mention we could do with more than 1 WR that has size

    If DHB doesnt show much in the preseason my take is they will keep JB and ditch Moye and DHB, but if they like what they see … they may keep him for a year and ditch Moye and keep JB on the practise squad like u said !

    I really like what Green Bay did … they went and got Devante Adams early in the draft and took 2 late flyers on BOTH Abberadis & Janis .. how can u not like their odds to completely revamp their receiving corp !!!

    That was pretty much the strategy i thought we would use towards CB this year, but didnt quite work out like that !

    However u cut it, competition in camp is going to be sky high and should really bring out the best in all of them … i really like this group as a whole !

  • shawn

    I guess I’m one of the few that believe Bryant will make an impact early .. dont think he is just going to be limited as the 4th WR !

  • Jason

    I think it all depends on his grasp of the playbook which I’ve read is one of his shortcomings. The first time he runs the wrong route that results in a pick 6 to the doghouse he goes. I think we are all excited about his size and skill set, and rightfully so, but we have to remember there’s a lot more to it. I ,like you, hope he makes an impact early, a positive one.

  • SumnerYoung

    Just like bringing Munchak on this year as a coach was a great move, I think bringing Coach Mann on last year was equally important. It seems the effect he had on AB was instantaneous and it led to a incredible record breaking year for AB. Mann has his work cut out for him with Wheaton and now Bryant but if he can get those two young players going like he has with AB, holy schnikies!!! Look out NFL defenses!

  • Paddy

    That’s why they have position coaches, I’m not sure theirs is as good as he should be


    What would be the best deployment of ABrown, Wheaton, and Bryant in three receiver sets?

  • ApexSteel

    It’s hard for me to say who’ll win between them. I’m pulling for Bryant because I like he has a better upside, but I can’t rule out Wheaton’s experience (more like a red shirt year). The only thing I know for certain is the DHB won’t be it and I’ll be surprised if he makes the roster at all. So I guess Wheaton is my guess.

  • shawn

    I like Bryant on the outside as opposed to benjamin i liked in the seam … not sure as whether to put AB or Wheaton in the slot … good question !

  • shawn

    forget the playbook for a second … what I’m getting at is i think they will put in special packages for the RZ and deep patterns in the middle of the field especially for him to take advantage of his size and speed mismatch …

    as far as regular starting time ya he won’t see it … but id be very surprised if he even performs moderately well in training camp … that he didnt get 3-4 looks/balls his way a game !

  • Jason Brant

    Barring injury, I would be completely shocked if Wheaton didn’t start. Honestly, I don’t see this as much of a competition this year.

    Next year is another story.

  • blue

    New Young Money SB#7

  • 20Stoney

    Does anyone know if Moye still has practice squad eligibility?

  • 20Stoney

    Between being more polished coming out and a year in the league, Wheaton is going to be way ahead of him. I think the only way he doesn’t come out on top is if he gets injured again.

  • Jason

    Yeah I agree. We had a guy on my team in high school that was 6’3 and could jump out of the stadium but also dumb as a rock. In the red zone we would literally just say run to the pylon and catch the ball. Maybe not quite that easy in the NFL but I get what you’re saying.

  • Luke Shabro

    I think Richard Mann is great. I was impressed with what he did last year

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Exactly what I said concerning the post on the 53 man roster. J Brown to the practice squad, but this is Moye’s last chance.

  • dgh57

    He was on the roster all last season so he’s not eligible for the practice squad.

  • dkoy85

    I wouldn’t discount Wheaton’s upside. He’s said to possibly have higher upside than Brown, the 2nd leading receiving leader in the league. At training camp Wheaton always seemed to be open- like Ben could throw the ball to him every time for a completion open.

    Either way the thought of Brown, Wheaton, Bryant, Miller and Bell/Archer on the field in 2015(even next year), and developed to their potential, makes me very excited! It’s an absolute matchup nightmare! Just think about the endless possibilities this offense will have from the Munchak coached O-line, to the WR’s/TE’s, stud of a RB, and Big Ben. Maybe Ben will finally get the recognition he deserves.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Let’s try to leave the “Money” out of this nickname. Try to think of something more results or championship related.

  • dgh57

    We need to hang on to J. Brown somehow at least one more year because he has punt return capability.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    I agree if they just use him in rz would really be wasting his talents in my oppoinion

  • Aric Brown

    completely disagree… every year guys come off the streets that we’ve never heard of and put up all-pro numbers… easiest position in the game

  • joed32

    Last year on a couple of occasions Wheaton turned one way and Ben threw the other way. Ben looked upset with him at the time and I believe he lost confidence in him. This year they should be able to get on the same page with Wheaton getting more reps in camp.

  • Aric Brown

    vincent jackson, antonio brown, miles austin, harry douglas, brian hartline, julian edelman

  • 20Stoney

    Isn’t there something about being dressed for the games though? I think that is how Dennis Dixon wound up on a practice squad when it seemed like he was in the league for 10 years.

  • Steelers12328882

    You can always find a handful of guys that break the trend, but usually those players have exceptional football knowledge. That’s not one of Bryant’s better assets.

  • SteveM2

    I think everyone will be surprised at who ends up playing, once the wideout competition plays out.

  • Ike Evans

    We are kinda deep at WR, RB, ILB, DLINE, QB….that’s very promising….now next year we can work on DBs and OLB depth (and starters for that matter)

  • Toddy Bravo

    Yea, we’re deep at every position you said, except RB. Not sure about that one. Granted, the top 3 are locks (Bell, Blunt, Archer), but I’m not sold on Alvester Alexander as the 4th (if we keep 4 this year). I was hoping we would also pick up a more traditional 3rd down back who can pass block and catch balls out of the backfield (ala Mewelde Moore), with Archer as a weapon who can line up anywhere, in the backfield or in the slot…which might also have meant we could save a roster spot at WR. I’m just nitpicking though. Overall, I’m pretty happy at the depth everywhere but CB. I really hope we bring in a vet CB after the Woodley money is freed up next month.

  • Toddy Bravo

    Any predictions? Might you be hinting at the light finally coming on for Heyward-Bey? Man, if he learns to catch at that speed, look out. All of a sudden, we’d be stacked at receiver.

  • Steelers12328882

    I can’t see Bryant in the slot, but I also can’t see him even on the field as anything more than the 5th receiver until mid season.

  • Ike Evans

    Bell, blount, dri, miguel maysonet, tauren poole. There sre guys in this league that are making a living and doing a bag up job as 3rd and 4th string rb that are just as talented or even less talented then the last three guys on our roster i just named…plus they could sign LSH back

  • Toddy Bravo

    “…Maysonet, Alexander, Poole.”

    Who? lol. Have any of them ever had a carry in the NFL? I hear ya though. If all I have to complain about is the 4th string RB, then we’re in a pretty good place at that position. But, I don’t think LSH will be back b/c of Archer.

  • Johnny Loose

    They brought in Jordan Hall from Ohio State I think he could be a legitimate 4th RB easy

  • Rod Hedrick

    He could be like Mike Wallace. Bring him in and throw Deep.