Markus Wheaton Compared To Recent Steelers Year-Two Starting WRs

With the NFL draft having come and gone, and free agent signings—at least significant ones—likely completely wrapped up, we can now begin painting a picture of what the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers will look like in September.

One thing is for certain: there will be a new starting wide receiver this year, with both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery departing.

Second-year player Markus Wheaton figures to have the first crack at it, though Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, and Darrius Heyward-Bey could all theoretically push for the job, especially if Wheaton flounders this summer.

As said, Wheaton will likely enter training camp working as the number two receiver. The Steelers are certainly no stranger to handing starting jobs over to wide receivers in their second seasons. Of particular relevance here would be Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes.

How did Wallace and Holmes fare in their rookie seasons, and how did they transition into a bigger role in their second seasons?

We already know that Wheaton’s rookie season was by and large a wash. It began with him missing OTAs due to school obligations, and then, during the season, when not buried in the depth chart, he suffered multiple finger injuries that kept him out for stretches. He ended up catching just six passes on 12 targets for the year.

Holmes, of course, was a first-round pick, and the depth chart at wide receiver was pretty lacking when he was drafted. He got a good amount of playing time as a rookie, catching 49 passes for 824 yards. That’s more yards than Sanders had as a starter last year.

Holmes also caught two touchdown passes, but he also fumbled five times, losing two of them. He transitioned into a full-time starter in 2007 and caught 52 passes for 942 yards, while recording a career-high eight touchdowns.

Wallace, meanwhile, came on as somewhat of a surprise as a rookie, easily surpassing Limas Sweed, who at the time was in his second season. He proved to be a weapon on the go route, and he averaged 19.4 yards per reception on 37 receptions, totaling 756 yards and reeling in six touchdown passes.

The Steelers dealt Holmes the following season, which helped get Wallace in the starting lineup. He delivered his best season, catching 60 passes for 1257 yards, averaging an eye-popping 21 yards per reception and catching 10 touchdowns.

The last two Steelers who started at wide receiver in their second season each went on to have arguably their best year of their careers. But each of them were significantly more involved in the offense the season prior than Wheaton was able to be last year.

Assuming that he does indeed win the starting job opposite Antonio Brown (who despite not starting in his second year caught 69 passes for 1108 yards and two touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl trip as a returner), how will Wheaton fare, transitioning from a complementary role to a featured role? We saw so little of him as a rookie that it’s difficult to project, but expect him to get a ton of work this preseason.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Steelers12328882

    So many Holmes and Wallace haters out there. I’m thankful we had both those guys and really appreciate what they did for the Steelers. We can only hope Wheaton has the same impact as they did.

  • Zach

    Agreed. I wish we had traded Wallace the year before he left for a 2nd or 3rd rounder.

  • Deuce22

    Agreed, Holmes had arguably the best playoffs during our superbowl run of 2009. I remember watching the “America’s Game: 2009 Steelers” and had to be reminded of what he did during that stretch of playoff games.

  • Jacque Strappe

    I think he’s gonna have a solid season. His injuries kept him off the field last year.

  • steeltown

    I fully expect Wheaton to take ahold of that #2 spot. He knows the playbook and he can run any number of routes, slot of vertical, he has all of the tools needed. Now that’s not to say that in a yrs time he wont be playing the slot with Bryant on the outside, I could see that as the eventual outcome if Bryant proves capable

  • blue

    Lets see what Wheaton is made Of

  • Weiss Chad

    I’m excited to see what this guy can do.I would love to see brown,Wheaton ,and Bryant ,start this year.That would mean we are set at wr.its a possibility , doubtful but hopefully that’s the case.

  • Steel PAul

    By comparison, this is really Wheaton’s rookie season.

  • ApexSteel

    It’s clear that everyone loves Wheaton, but I’m hoping Bryant can outplay him. Real talk, I think we need Bryant to pan out more that we need Wheaton to.

  • PA2AK

    I get what you are saying, but it is far from a rookie season for him. The mental adjustment from college to pro is the biggest hurdle…he’s done that part. The play book isn’t news to him, the people, coaches, facility, etc are all old news. If you are comparing or predicting numbers to Wallace and Holmes that may be true in the end, but certainly not a rookie season for him.

  • Steel PAul

    By comparison.
    When you look at the amount of time Wallace and Holmes got in their rookie season, you can’t compare Wheaton to that because he didn’t get to play for the most part and didn’t even get in early enough to have OTA’s. This will be his first time at mini-camp.

  • Steel PAul

    Best-case scenario is if Antonio ends up being the #2!

  • ApexSteel

    Not really.

  • Weiss Chad

    I like that urban Meyer is Ohio state head. coach.He will bring us good players considering ohio state is a drafting factory for us.If we find quality olb back ups in Johnson and or zumwalt well that would be wonderful!!

  • Steel PAul

    Which part Apex?

  • steeltown

    I think we need them both to pan out, Moore is a stopgap for now.. hopefully the future is Brown and Bryant on the outside with Wheaton in the slot

  • cencalsteeler

    If DHB makes the 53 man roster, does he have any kick return experience? Could you imagine he and Archer back there together? I fear if Archer is the only threat back there, teams will just avoid kicking to him, nullifying the reason we have him. A duel threat will get Archer more touches, imo.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I honestly think we are going to be 2nd WR by committee for a while even if Wheaton gets the starts. This is a watershed moment for the coaching staff IMO. I think it is pretty clear they brought in DHB and Moore as vets hoping they both would get beat out. To me Wheaton is more like Moore than DHB and more apt to playing in the slot not out wide, but that may just be me.

  • steeltown

    I don’t think he has any experience returning kicks, but we do have Blount, Wheaton, Bryant and few others that could also contribute

  • PA2AK

    I still disagree. Admittedly, he missed a lot of time and is at a disadvantage, but it can’t really be anything compared to the adjustment from College to NFL, imo.

  • Steel PAul

    We’re saying two different things PA2AK.

    I’m comparing Wheaton to Holmes and Wallace’s second year. And you can’t. He didn’t get anywhere near the time and experience they did.

    IMO, this is closer to his first year, than his second year when you see their stats and time played.

  • PA2AK

    Could someone refresh my memory on who looks better with intermediate to deep routes between Wheaton and Brown? I ask because to me, the best option depth chart (if these two pan out) would be #1 AB, #2 MB, #3 MW. However, when you move to a 3WR set, AB being the slot guy would be great. He’s proven to be the most versatile guy and having him in the slot (or at least moving from inside to out in 3WR sets) would be a nice way to use him. He’s clearly ‘quick-twitch’ type player and shows some great concentration and focus on his routes…not to mention that you rarely see him not working for every inch.

  • PA2AK

    Yes we are. That’s why I mentioned it in the first response. If we are strictly talking about PT and stats…there is no comparison. I was more focused on calling it a ‘rookie’ season.

  • PA2AK

    Agree, given the skill sets, 4 RB will probably be necessary. If Archer pans out and DHB makes the final 53…crazy to think how much our return game changes from last year (needing to use our #1 WR to hope for any sort of contribution in the return game).

  • With so much post-draft talk about Bryant, and so much off-season talk about Moore and DHB, Wheaton tends to get lost in the mix even if it’s understood he’s #2 on the depth chart and a likely “starter.” But it’s pretty exciting to think about what he might be able to bring to the table in whatever role the Steelers have for him. Even if Bryant, assuming all goes well, is likely to start opposite Antonio at some point over the next couple of years, with Wheaton moving to the slot (and Moore fitting in somewhere), there’s some great depth with a lot of upside, and Wheaton is a big part of that.

  • steeltown

    Well I can tell you that Wheaton is a tad faster, a tad taller and has a longer wing span. They are very similar in athleticism, so much so that Wheatons NFL comparison coming out of college was actually A.Brown

  • 2443scott

    i still see wheaton as a rookie coming into this season ….as good as holmes and wallace were that was only in pittsburgh with ben tossing the ball around once they left its easy to see they fallen off that so called high horse ….i think bens going to have a hard time this year in who to toss ball to with all the recievers he now has ….but what a prob to have …i just hope brown has a good year and dont let being a star re-effect him and stays hummble ….this might be bens best ever yards passing year and if wheaton shows more of flashes we saw the skys the limit for him

  • Ike Evans

    Wheaton is in for a breakout year…esp with all the attention AB will garner

  • PA2AK

    Thanks! With that, I would think AB is a little more polished/diverse in his route tree. The scenario above could be a potential (provided Wheaton and Bryant pan out this year or the next).

  • ApexSteel

    He’s not really a rookie even when it comes to experience. I mean he missed a few games and OTAs, but to say he’s a rookie is to downplay all that he learned in that first year. You can’t forget he and Ben have gotten reps together for a year now. Along with that, he’s gotten mental reps, a full preseason, and practices under his belt. I wouldn’t call him seasoned or even experienced, but this is far from his rookie season.

  • Aric Brown

    Im in no way talking down about Markus Wheaton… but he is in NO WAY a lock to start

  • Steelers@2010

    I just hope the kid can stay healthy; I hope he has been working on his weight lifting and come to cam fired up and ready to go. I hope Martavis Bryant wins the #3 spot if he doesn’t beat out Wheaton.

  • Bob

    They got a 3rd round comp pick for Wallace and one (admittedly poor) extra season out of him. Certainly worth more than just a higher 3rd a year earlier. MAYBE a 2nd.

  • Randy Neff

    Daniel Jeremiah loves Wheaton and said last spring that Wheaton was going to break the hearts of Ravens fans.

  • SteveM2

    Other than Antonio Brown and Lance Moore, I see the Steelers’ wide receiver positions as being wide open for the best men to win. As much as we hate to see it, injuries may again play a role, which is why having lots of internal competition can only help us in 2014.

  • Weiss Chad

    Equals dri archer

  • Matthew Suloman

    Hopefully he’s not Dwight ‘hands of stone’ had a couple shaky preseason games, but did also flash. We need consistency

  • Matthew Suloman

    Capable of learning playbook is the possible issue. The desire and mental makeup is shaky. Would have preferred a slower,shorter Kevin Norwood.

  • Matthew Suloman

    Slippery hands possibly concerning