The 2015 season has not been the easiest to handle for Pittsburgh Steelers third-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who has struggled significantly to get himself involved in the offense in spite of the fact that he has logged close to two thirds of the team’s offensive snaps this year.
On the season, the former third-round pick has accumulated 16 receptions for 273 yards and one touchdown, averages that work out to 1.6 receptions and 27.3 yards per game. And those numbers have dipped since the start of the season.
Unsurprisingly, offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked about Wheaton’s status coming out of the bye week and how he has developed this season, and the fourth-year play-caller admitted that the young man is not in an easy place to find individual success.
“It’s a tough one”, he acknowledged. “I think to me it’ll define what he’s going to be, because everybody can’t handle it”. Speaking about the wide receivers that he plays with, Haley said, “you’ve got one of the best in the league that you need to be targeting a bunch that makes a lot of plays”.
For him, it takes a certain mental fortitude for a talented young man to stay focused while essentially being placed on the back burner. “The guys that aren’t getting it for chunks of time potentially have got to stay mentally tough” he said about Wheaton, “and he’s shown to do that. He’s a young guy. He’s shown a lot of signs of being a true pro”.
Of course, he began the season as a starter, and has seen his snap count take a dip over the course of the past five weeks after Martavis Bryant returned to the lineup. But even prior to that, Wheaton’s production was far from substantial.
In the first five games, Wheaton caught nine passes for 228 yards and one touchdown, numbers that included a 72-yard touchdown pass in his only reception of the game against the Chargers during a Week Five victory.
Of course, he spent most of that time playing without Ben Roethlisberger. Five of his nine receptions came in the first two games before his injury, during which he combined for 122 yards.
Since those first two games, he’s had a total of 11 receptions 151 yards, an average of 1.4 receptions and 19 yards per game. He has been limited to just one catch five times, and has only caught more than three passes once, in the season opener.
But if you look at his numbers in just the last five games, since Bryant has been active, he has just seven receptions for 45 yards. Those are awfully dismal numbers for a slot receiver in what should be a high-powered aerial offense.
Of course, there have been mitigating factors at play in that regard, with Roethlisberger dealing with multiple injuries. But then again, Darrius Heyward-Bey had 17 receptions, 209 yards, and two touchdowns during the first five games as the third receiver. Take that for whatever it’s worth.