Markus Wheaton was selected 79th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In his four seasons with the team, Wheaton has played in 47 games and has 107 receptions for 1,508 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2016, Wheaton began the year as a starter alongside Antonio Brown, but poor production and injury issues moved him down the depth chart in favor of Sammie Coates.
Making the Case For and Against Markus Wheaton
Wheaton is relatively cheap for a wide receiver. Wheaton has the 88th highest contract out of 234 NFL wide receivers. In 2016, Wheaton’s base salary was about $1.7 million, and he averaged about $703,000 per year throughout his four-year contract. Wheaton brings valuable veteran experience and leadership. With a young corps of wide receivers, it’s nice to have someone who’s been around for a little while and knows how the game works. Wheaton has also showed his versatility, being able to play both outside and in the slot.
Wheaton had a lot of success as the number three wide receiver behind Brown and Martavis Bryant, but he struggled as the number two receiver. While Wheaton was dealing with nagging injuries last year, he still wasn’t performing earlier in the season either when he was healthy, leading to him being replaced in the starting lineup by Coates.
As previously mentioned, Wheaton has had some injury issues in his career. Wheaton missed 13 games in 2016 plus two more in the playoffs, and only started two games. Wheaton also missed four games due to injury in his rookie season, back in 2013.
Perhaps the main reason that Wheaton’s future in Pittsburgh is uncertain, is because he has a lot of good teammates at the wide receiver position. Even if he’s healthy, Wheaton could be looking at the fifth or sixth spot on the depth chart next season. Brown just signed a four-year deal with the Steelers and Bryant is set to return from his suspension next season. After those two, Coates showed a lot of promise last year before fracturing two of his fingers and attempting to play through the injury. He beat out Wheaton for the starting job even before Wheaton’s injury, but struggled afterwards because of his broken fingers.
Eli Rogers shined in the preseason last year and had high expectations coming into the season. He didn’t disappoint, with 48 receptions, 594 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Also, Cobi Hamilton had an impressive season after coming from the practice squad. Rogers was also a member of the practice squad in 2015, showing that the Steelers clearly have a keen eye for talent at the wide receiver position. Hamilton finished the season with 17 catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Even Demarcus Ayers looked good in his limited time on the field last season. Ayers had six catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in two games.
In conclusion, there’s way too much depth for the Steelers to re-sign Wheaton. The team could decide to sign Wheaton to a one or two-year deal until they see how Bryant performs in his return from suspension, but that’s unlikely, especially with how Rogers, Hamilton and Ayers played last season. Having too many receivers is a good problem to have, but hopefully Wheaton doesn’t decide to sign with the Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals. Wheaton will likely sign to be the number two or number three wide receiver somewhere else, and he’ll likely make way more money than he would if he stayed in Pittsburgh.