By Matthew Marczi
It has been a theme for many years that, aside from the occasional special teams contributions, rookies on the Pittsburgh Steelers, including even first-round draft picks, rarely contribute during their first season. That has been especially true over the years on defense, though less so on offense.
That pattern changed somewhat in 2013 due to a variety of circumstances, both foreseen and unforeseen, as many rookies—even undrafted players—got a good chunk of playing time on both sides of the ball. Therefore, there’s more to go on than usual when speaking about how their rookie seasons went.
Player: Markus Wheaton
Draft Status: 3rd round (97th overall)
With the departure of Mike Wallace in free agency, the Steelers made sure to address the wide receiver position in the 2013 draft, taking two wide receivers in the third and sixth rounds, respectively.
The first of those two, Markus Wheaton, expects to have a much bigger role in 2014, but his rookie season wasn’t much to speak of, considering he totaled just six receptions for 64 yards and six special teams tackles.
Wheaton was forced to fall behind before his rookie season even started due to school regulations, as he wasn’t allowed to attend the rookie minicamp and other early offseason activities. As a result, it took him longer to get involved and to establish a rhythm with the starters.
During the preseason, Wheaton was targeted 22 times, but caught only nine of those passes. Given that only one of those was deemed a drop, it’s reasonable to conclude that much of that disconnect had to do with the quarterbacks targeting him.
By the time the regular season rolled around, Wheaton was clearly the fourth receiver on the depth chart, averaging just seven snaps during the first three games. That changed in Week Four against the Minnesota Vikings, when he played 36 snaps, catching three of the five passes aimed his way for 26 yards.
Unfortunately, Wheaton broke a finger during the game, which required surgery, and as a result, he missed the next four games. By that time, Jerricho Cotchery had emerged as a serious receiving threat from the slot. He had just scored three touchdowns the week before against the Patriots.
Still, he saw his second-most extensive playing time his second game back against the Detroit Lions, in large part because of the fact that Emmanuel Sanders was injured early into the game. He was targeted four times, catching three of those passes for 38 yards, with 24 yards after the catch.
In total, Wheaton played about 160 snaps in his rookie season, catching six of 12 targets in his direction. 50 of those snaps came on running plays, on which he showed aptitude but had mixed success. He had a lot going against him during his rookie year between college restrictions and injuries, so he could experience a significant jump in his second year.
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Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – LB Jarvis Jones
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – RB Le’Veon Bell