The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense started last season slow but picked up the pace toward the end. However, heading into this season, Ben Roethlisberger’s arsenal may look a bit different.
Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are both free agents this offseason and it’s unlikely Sanders will return while Cotchery’s status is still up in the air. With the possible departure of one or both of these players, Markus Wheaton is expected to make an impact this upcoming season.
Sanders is already seeing interest from other teams like the New York Jets and every sign indicates he won’t be returning to the Steelers. Sanders is easily replaceable as Wheaton is more than capable of filling his shoes.
The biggest reason Wheaton didn’t garner attention last season was because he didn’t see the field all that much. Roethlisberger’s main targets were Antonio Brown, Sanders, Cotchery, tight end Heath Miller and then Wheaton. The young receiver was near the end of the depth chart.
Being behind those guys Wheaton’s chances were extremely limited. Wheaton only caught six passes on 13 targets for 64 yards during the 2013 season. Wheaton also missed some time due to a finger injury.
The Steelers selected Wheaton during the third round of last year’s draft after Mike Wallace departed from the team The thought was that Wheaton could develop into a quality receiver to replace Wallace down the road. Looking at the pick now though, picking Wheaton was smart because now he will come in handy in a big way this upcoming season.
The possible loss of two receivers, one of them coming off a career season (Cotchery) could harm the flow and production of an offense that began to click toward the latter half of last season. Wheaton will be asked to step into a bigger role this upcoming season and I believe he’ll be up for the challenge.
His characteristics are similar to those of the Steelers’ past. Wheaton’s small, quick and versatile, much like Wallace, Brown and Sanders. Brown will obviously be the team’s number one receiver after having a tremendous 2013 season, but the receiver to compliment him remains to be seen.
Last season everyone believed Sanders could fill the void left by Wallace and be an excellent second receiver to Brown but Sanders fell short of those expectations. The pressure now swings to Wheaton.
Wheaton’s still young and will still have “young player mistakes” but with a season under his belt and a solid offseason, Wheaton will be ready to help this offense.
The Steelers will probably seek a receiver in this year’s draft as well but just like Wheaton, that draft pick will probably be buried by depth at the wide receiver position.
Don’t be surprised if another name ends up being the second receiver on the team, no one really anticipated Cotchery’s performance this past season so the potentials there for any given player.
As of now though, it appears Wheaton’s the player primed to fulfill the role of secondary receiver.