End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Markus Wheaton
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 2 Years
After losing Mike Wallace in free agency, the Steelers looked to bolster their wide receiving unit in the 2013 draft by selecting Markus Wheaton in the third round. As a rookie, however, he was still buried in the depth chart, and was limited—in part due to a pair of finger injuries—to just six receptions.
Despite his minimal production in his first season, the fact that the Steelers took another pair of hits to their wide receiver room during free agency in 2014 meant that Wheaton was about to take on a much larger role. He entered his second season as a starter, and bettered his rookie numbers in the season opener.
He showed great promise in that first game, showing good hands, poise, and even clutch plays en route to a six-catch, 97-yard day in which he caught two passes on the game-winning drive. But he never caught that many passes again the rest of the year, nor did he come within 30 yards of that total.
Still, things started out well, and he began to build a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, catching everything within his radius at a high ratio. But suddenly he began to slump, and then the Steelers activated rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, and the complexion of the landscape was permanently changed for the duration of the season.
Since Bryant came on to the scene, Wheaton slowly was demoted from starter to co-starter, with his snap count decreasing in order to give Bryant more looks. The rookie’s immediately returns, especially in the end zone, necessitated that shift, and there was little Wheaton could do about it.
For the year, Wheaton caught 53 passes for 644 yards, hauling in two touchdowns. He also showed well in the Wildcard loss with five receptions for 66 yards—but so did Bryant, who scored the Steelers’ lone touchdown in the game.
That could be symbolic of where things are headed next season. it seems that Bryant is destined for an outside spot as long as he continues to grow in his understanding of the offense and in his discipline on the field. Perhaps Wheaton’s ultimate destiny will be in the slot. About a quarter of his routes came from the slot, where he caught 11 receptions for 156 yards, including the postseason.