Not only did Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton have a career-year in 2015 with his 44 catches for 749 yards and 5 touchdowns during the regular season, the former third-round draft pick also led the team in average yards per catch (17.0).
Wheaton’s 17 yard per catch average in 2015 was mostly a result of him registering 9 catches of 20 yards or more that resulted in 375 total yards, or almost exactly half of his 2015 total receiving yardage. I have compiled those 9 catches for you below and as you can see, 4 appeared to have happen on improvised plays and that’s not overly surprising when you consider the long playing history of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Below against the New England Patriots, Wheaton essentially runs a wheel route and while it’s hard to see in the all-22, is directed by Roethlisberger to push his route up the field. Wheaton ultimately made a great grab along the sideline.
On this play against the San Francisco 49ers, Wheaton sees Roethlisberger break outside of the pocket to his right and he matches that effort by running away from his defender to the far sideline.
On this play, Wheaton’s longest of the season, he beats his defender with a double move. If you remember, Roethlisberger claimed that he helped call this play on the Steelers sideline after noticing how the San Diego Chargers were attempting to defend the outside earlier in the game.
Wheaton had a monster game last year against the Seattle Seahawks that included three explosive plays. This first one below is an easy catch over the middle on a post route against zone coverage. This, in my opinion, is Wheaton’s bread and butter.
Below is another great adjustment by Wheaton after he sees Roethlisberger avoid pressure. He runs away from the Seahawks coverage into open area and Roethlisberger easily connects with him.
On this play against the Seahawks, initially it doesn’t appear as though Roethlisberger has an open receiver to throw to. However, Wheaton manages to gain just enough separation after initially looking like he was covered well.
Another nice grab over the middle here against the Indianapolis Colts by Wheaton against tight man-coverage.
Below, against the Cincinnati Bengals, is rare one-on-one win on the outside by Wheaton. Thankfully, Roesthlisberger makes a great throw on this play as it really was great coverage.
As noted several plays earlier, Wheaton appears to be at his best when running a post route out of the slot. This one appears to come against a cover-2 shell in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns.
While there has already been quite a bit of talk so far this offseason as it relates to Wheaton playing more on the outside in 2016, I think he’s best-suited to mostly play inside and thus exploit the middle of the field. While Wheaton will likely see some playing time on the outside with Martavis Bryant being suspended for the upcoming season, you rarely see him gain a lot of separation when he’s been asked to do just that in the past.