Scouring the list of available players for sleepers late in a fantasy football draft is a practice every owner should employ. Finding a player who delivers on his breakout potential could be the difference between winning or losing your fantasy league. This year, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton will be that player.
Despite being selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, Wheaton remains relatively unknown due to a rookie campaign filled with injuries and a steep learning curve. With a full season in Pittsburgh under his belt, a now-healthy Wheaton will take on a bigger role in 2014 following the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
While Antonio Brown will resume his role as the team's No. 1 option, Wheaton is secured as the No. 2, according to the team's depth chart. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't waste any time finding a rhythm with his emerging target, hooking up with him on a 16-yard touchdown in Pittsburgh's second preseason contest against the Buffalo Bills.
Will Graves of The Associated Press tweeted his instant impression:
Roethlisberger to Wheaton for 16 yd TD. Nice pass, better catch by Wheaton, who looks plenty ready to be No. 2 to Brown.— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) August 17, 2014
Adam Levitan of Rotoworld gave his thoughts after watching the replay:
Replay of Markus Wheaton's TD from last night is nice. Perfect post-corner route, roasted Stephon Gilmore. Toe-tapped for score.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 17, 2014
NFL analysts weren't the only ones impressed by Wheaton's ability. After the team's third preseason game, Roethlisberger had some very high praise for his receiver during an interview with Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
[Wheaton]'s learning and growing fast, and we need him to. That's what's great about him. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. He's busting his butt every day in practice. I grabbed him upstairs [Monday] and talked to him about something he did a little wrong in the game. He had nothing to do with the play, but he was heartbroken that he screwed something up that he probably shouldn't have. He puts that work in. He's watched [Brown]. He knows what it takes to be a pro.
Roethlisberger's faith in Wheaton is a great sign going forward. Expect this duo to connect early and often this season in a Todd Haley-run offense that put up 4,306 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns last season despite getting off to a sluggish start.
Here's a look at the possible receptions available for Wheaton this season due to the absence of key receivers from 2013:
That's plenty of opportunity left on the table this season, and Wheaton could easily take advantage and surpass Sanders' 2013 totals of 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns at the least—not too shabby for a player with an average draft position of 12.03, via FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
Selecting Wheaton in accordance to his average draft position in the early-12th round makes the wide receiver a big steal. In fact, taking his potential and upside into consideration, making a run at him a round or two earlier could still yield big rewards.
Wheaton may be considered a sleeper this season, but fantasy owners shouldn't be sleeping on the second-year player when their drafts roll around.