The Steelers made Wheaton the No. 79 overall pick in this year's draft, and many figured the Oregon State product would spend his rookie year on the bench watching Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
That simply will not be the case.
Wheaton was highly regarded by many coming out of college after catching 227 passes for just shy of 3,000 yards and 16 scores. He combines 4.40 40-yard-dash speed, per CBS Sports, with a 5'11", 189-pound frame into a neat package that looked ready to transition to the NFL with ease.
Draft experts, such as Rotoworld's Josh Norris and Lance Zierlein, predicted big things for Wheaton in the near future:
RT @LanceZierlein: Markus Wheaton will end up being best WR on PIT by end of 2014. Will love speed, competitiveness & willingness to block.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 21, 2013
Pair Wheaton's skills entering the league with the fact the Steelers have a knack for hitting on quality receivers in the draft, as Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon points out, and things looked up for Wheaton before he even stepped on the field:
The steelers have drafted Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Markus Wheaton since 2006.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) August 20, 2013
The hype is real. In three preseason games, Wheaton has seven receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He looks unexpectedly well-rounded for a rookie and even had a nice rapport with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter points out, some rookies just have "it." One of those this year is Wheaton:
Certain players just pop in preseason. You can see they can play right away. Steelers WR Markus Wheaton is one.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 11, 2013
Wheaton has easily made his case for being a starter. Brown and Sanders are not going to leave the field, but Wheaton has more than proved he should see more reps than the Cotchery. The 31-year-old veteran has caught just 33 passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons with the team.
Further helping Wheaton's case as a breakout star is the offensive scheme in Pittsburgh. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the coaching staff believes Wheaton is a better fit than former No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace:
In addition, the Steelers believe they have a receiver -- rookie Markus Wheaton, a third-round choice -- who could be a better fit in their offense than Wallace, who was often referred to as a "one-trick pony" by coach Mike Tomlin.
That's lofty praise considering Wallace put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010-2011 and scored at least eight touchdowns in his final three years with the team before joining Miami via free agency.
Wheaton, should he officially beat out Cotchery in the slot, will be used in a similar manner to how Wallace was in the past. He will not necessarily put up the same kind of numbers, but he will be used as a deep threat to take the top off of defenses.
Will Wheaton be a breakout rookie?
Not only that, but Wheaton has also proven to be a more well-rounded overall player. Wheaton will not simply be confined to running deep on every play. He will also consistently see routes over the middle and be able to contribute as an option to move the chains.
Wheaton's ability was well known entering the NFL. Now he has more than backed up the hype and finds himself in an ideal situation. It's hard to keep a player with Wheaton's talent off the field, especially if the chemistry between him and Roethlisberger continues to develop.
Wheaton is poised to take the NFL by storm and will rank in the upper echelon of rookie receivers by the time the season is over.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling