Here is the third in a series that takes a closer look at the Steelers’ most recent draft class with ESPN Insider and former NFL scout Matt Willamson providing his take on every player in it.
Position: Wide receiver
Key stats: Wheaton caught just six passes for 64 yards.
His first season: Wheaton drew praise from veteran players during training camp, and free safety Ryan Clark went as far as to call the rookie a more polished wide receiver than the departed Mike Wallace. A strong camp, however, did not translate into Wheaton playing a significant role on offense -- or playing much at all. The former Oregon State star logged just 153 snaps, and two forces conspired to keep him off the field. A broken pinkie required surgery and sidelined Wheaton for four games. Also, the Steelers did not use many four-wide receiver sets, and Jerricho Cotchery played so well as the No. 3 wideout that there simply weren’t many opportunities for Wheaton.
Looking ahead: Wheaton could go from hardly playing to starting next season. Emmanuel Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent on March 11, and the Steelers are likely to let the market set his value before deciding if they want to take a serious run at re-signing him. Wheaton has to make the kind of jump that coach Mike Tomlin expects from players after their rookie season, and his speed and production at Oregon State suggest the 5-11, 182-pounder can do just that. So too does Wheaton’s work ethic, which endeared him to teammates, and desire to get better. Cotchery mentored Wheaton, and he spoke glowingly about the latter last season any time he was asked about him.
Williamson says: “I loved the pick at the time, thought that was a steal, that they had no right getting him that late. I thought he flashed well in the preseason. He didn’t have drop issues at Oregon State, but he had too many drops for my liking but hey he’s a rookie in a new environment so I’m just going to make a note of that but not lose a lot of sleep over it. I'm still excited about him.”