With the 2016 NFL Draft now over and the bulk of the heavy lifting done with regard to the roster building process now out of the way, it is easier to begin to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand at certain positions, and what the implications might be of a variety of moves for certainly players.
And take stock is what we shall do, as every move has ramifications up and down the roster, so now we will take a look at some specific players and see how the team’s moves during the course of the offseason thus far, and more specifically since the draft, has sent their stock rising or falling.
Player: WR Markus Wheaton
Stock Value: Up
When a player who would likely be playing ahead of you receives a year-long suspension, and the team fails to address that loss by any significant means, then it goes without saying that your stock is up; that is, your value to the team is higher than it would have been otherwise.
That is the situation Markus Wheaton finds himself in as he enters a critical season, which is the final year of his four-year rookie contract. After this year, he is slated to hit unrestricted free agency, and it is highly unlike that the Steelers offer him an extension this summer to prevent that scenario.
Over the course of the past season and a half or so, Wheaton has had to make room in the offense for the emerging Martavis Bryant, who has been the de facto number two wide receiver for much of that span of time, even if he has been limited to 21 regular season games.
But Wheaton was already thrust into a bigger role than he likely was prepared for in 2014 when he entered the starting lineup after managing just a few catches due to injuries and depth chart limitations during his rookie season.
It seems, however, that he has been on an upward trajectory since the bye week, a string of performance that he kicked off with a bang, reeling in a career-high nine receptions for another career-high 201 yards. If I recall correctly, he is one of just three wide receivers in team history to record at least 200 receiving yards in a game.
Equally important is the fact that he recorded four of his six touchdowns on the year in the final six games, and he recorded at least three receptions in each of those games, gaining at least 50 yards in five of those six games, registering four explosive plays, and two of at least 40 yards.
Last year, he played only 65 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, or about 700. I expect that to rise as he works as the primary number two receiver across from Antonio Brown throughout the entire season, while the rest of the depth chart works around and complements these two starting wide receivers.
It’s taken some time for Wheaton to click in to the offense, and for the offense to click in to Wheaton, but I think some important progress was made late last year that will carry into this year, and his role will only become more prominent in the absence of Bryant while he looks to state his best case for a big contract in 2017.