Earlier this week, one commenter wondered why I left out 6’5” wide receiver Derek Moye while discussing two other tall young receivers on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, namely Justin Brown and rookie Martavis Bryant.
There’s not much to wonder about, really. Although the former Penn State wide out did make the roster a year ago, and even managed to catch a touchdown pass, the reality is that his contributions have been minimal, and he stands to be phased out in 2014.
Aside from that, he hasn’t given reporters much to write about so far. I hear he caught a touchdown pass during a drill in the last practice, though. Perhaps he can deliver something worthy of a headline when the preseason games begin, as he did last year.
What is much more curious than lack of coverage of a fringe wide receiver, however, is the relative silence surrounding the inexperienced new starting wide receiver in the lineup, second-year former third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton.
And it’s not because he hasn’t been showing well and garnering attention. It seems more that he’s performed so effortlessly and naturally in his greatly expanded role that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary, and thus worthy of discussion.
But as another commenter pointed out, that alone is indeed worthy of discussion.
After all, the prospect of Wheaton coming into 2014 as the number two wide out on the depth chart was one of the major reasons that many projected the Steelers would target a wide receiver in the draft as early as the first round.
Wheaton is showing that their investment in him over the past two seasons has not been unfounded. Alex Kozora wrote in his training camp recaps that Ben Roethlisberger has been targeting him frequently, a year after seemingly the majority of his targets were filtered to Antonio Brown, who caught 110 of them.
If the Steelers could give Roethlisberger two consistently reliable receivers to target in the starting lineup who will catch the ball and then make something happen after the catch, then it only makes each receiver separately that more dangerous.
Of course, it will take time before Wheaton can establish himself on the radar of opposing defenses and defensive coordinators, considering his rookie season was bogged down by missed time in training camp and a pair of broken fingers during the regular season that helped limit him to just six catches on 12 targets.
Thus, it won’t do Brown much good in the early portions of the season as defenses hone in on the All-Pro receiver. But it could, and should, afford Wheaton some extra opportunities early on. It seems the consensus among those who have been following his progress this summer is unanimous: the kid’s gonna be all right.