Markus Wheaton Will Have Breakout Fantasy Season in 2014

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Markus Wheaton Will Have Breakout Fantasy Season in 2014
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton is not an ordinary fantasy football sleeper.

No, Wheaton is that guy who can make or break a fantasy year for an owner no matter what format or if coin is on the line.

Ponder this—the Oregon State product currently has an average draft position of 13.06, which makes him the No. 58 wideout off the board.

Why not? As a rookie, he caught just six passes in the 12 games he was permitted to don a jersey. He saw 13 targets overall from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So his ADP is not necessarily all that ludicrous, it just goes to show that owners can be rather lazy when it comes to research and instead rely too much on past performances.

That happens to annually be the line in the sand that separates the best owners from the worst.

First, about Wheaton himself. As member of the Beavers, he was often lost in the shuffle, allowing the spotlight to go to other big-name receivers. Even then, his numbers steadily increased with an equal rise in usage:

YEAR REC YDS AVG LNG
2009 8 89 11.1 25
2010 55 675 12.3 48
2011 73 986 13.5 69
2012 91 1244 13.7 51

ESPN

Let's speed up the timeline now to this offseason. Wheaton has done nothing but turn heads in—gasp—what has been increased usage.

Going into the offseason, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Wheaton would compete with fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant for playing time.

Fast forward to the start of OTAs, when he was already a starter running with the first-team offense. Now we are in training camp, and one of the most constant names making the rounds is his.

Big names within the organization are already in his corner, as NFL.com's Chris Wesseling records:

"I feed off the pressure and embrace it," Wheaton said, per Dan Scifo of The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports. "Pressure is always good, I feel. Pressure can push you to get a lot better or it can break you. I feel that the pressure is always good for me because it always pushes me to get better."

The buck does not stop there, though. Perhaps an even more important figure in Wheaton's future has big aspirations of what he can do.

"I've put a lot on him," Roethlisberger said, per Scifo. "The expectation level is high. He was doing some really good things last year until he got hurt and kind of lost some confidence I think in himself, but he's got it back."

Not only is Wheaton running with the first-team offense, he is bound to score some production off returning kicks, too, as captured by Ken Laird of TribLIVE Radio:

Now take the time to remember that the Steelers lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery this offseason, to the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

For those counting, that is 113 receptions and 188 targets that walked out the door. Those have to go somewhere, and as it stands when one takes into account his training camp performances and the talk of those within the organization, Wheaton is the first place those numbers will go.

Where else would it go? Lance Moore is a new arrival, but he has not played in a full 16-game season since 2010 and managed just 37 catches last year in a pass-happy offense led by Drew Brees.

Bryant is a rookie. Justin Brown is essentially one, Mr. No. 186 in 2013. Darrius Heyward-Bey was a flier in every sense of the word.

No, most of it goes to Wheaton. Perhaps the most apt comparison? Mike Wallace. He is, after all, the guy drafted in the wake of Mr. Wallace taking his talents to South Beach.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

“Markus Wheaton is better than Michael Wallace at everything but one thing — speed,” Ryan Clark said a year ago, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s it. He does everything else better. As far as route-running, he’s more polished. I think he has better hands … I think he’s ready to step in and play.”

Now is Wheaton's chance to show all of that. The opportunities will be there, especially now that the team plans to incorporate even more of the no-huddle offense to appease Big Ben.

The number and names of players being drafted in front of Wheaton is amusing—and even a tad embarrassing. He is in line for a major year, health permitting. Owners willing to roll the dice a tad early will find themselves in a great position with him rostered, even if it does take a bit of research and a leap of faith.

 

All average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com. All scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues.

 

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