I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fantasy football guy. At all. I’ve never played it, and don’t plan on ever starting. But I do understand the basic idea that good fantasy players are one who accumulate a lot of statistics, and that the concept of a ‘sleeper’ is a player under the radar that will produce a lot but will not draw a lot of attention, and can be had for relatively low value.
Michael Fabiano recently published a list of his “Top 10 Deep Fantasy Sleepers”, and he listed Markus Wheaton at the number two spot—behind Giants rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard. I should warn you that the link is a video, and in the video they pretty much don’t even discuss the list, making it really quite stupid.
Fortunately, there was also an accompanying list published about a week or so earlier in which he actually talks about the players on his list, rather than all of the players not on the list. On Wheaton, he writes, “Wheaton looks like a virtual lock to start opposite Antonio Brown with [Martavis] Bryant suspended for the entire 2016 campaign. Don’t forget, Ben Roethlisberger talked up Wheaton big time heading into last season”.
Not exactly the most compelling nor detailed analysis I’ve ever read, to be sure, but there is no doubt that Bryant’s absence absolutely plays a major role in the idea that Wheaton will see a statistical increase during the 2016 season.
Of course, he has already essentially been the starter opposite Brown for the past two seasons, or at least the primary starter opposite Brown, as Bryant saw his share of snaps in two-wide receiver sets as well. But the point is that Wheaton featuring in a prominent role would be nothing novel to the 2016 season.
What might be somewhat new is the rapport, confidence, and stability between him and the quarterback position. In his second season, he was fairly inexperienced and hardly played the year before, only to be given a starting spot, and he and Roethlisberger struggled to stay on the same page.
Last year, after some early productivity, Roethlisberger was injured, and he has issue adjusting to playing primarily in a slot role, which was an issue in terms of establishing a passing rhythm, and had an adverse effect on the number of opportunities that he received in the passing game relative to his number of routes run.
That began to change late in the season following the bye week, with Roethlisberger healthier, and he has a productive run to end the season, with his targets increasing. Though he still needs to work on improving his catch percentage and his yards after the catch, he should have plenty of opportunity to do so this season.
Wheaton also showed his potential to be a big-play threat after leading the team with 17 yards per catch. while Sammie Coates has been receiving plenty of praise, he still figures to function as the third wide receiver behind the fourth-year veteran, at least for the time being. I suppose that means something in terms of fantasy draft value.