Steelers' Wheaton primed for breakthrough

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
1:00
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One Steeler landed on Football Outsiders' list of 25 players primed for a breakthrough this season.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoMarkus Wheaton has the speed and vertical game needed to have a breakout season.
Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton is ninth on Aaron Schatz's list of breakout players after catching just six passes for 64 yards in 2013. For fans wondering why outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is not on Schatz's list, eligibility is limited to players who were drafted after the second round and have five or less career NFL starts.

Wheaton's first NFL season turned into a lost one, as Schatz notes, because of a combination of finger injuries that set him back and the stellar play of former Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

Despite Wheaton's limited playing time and sparse production as a rookie, Schatz is still high on the Steelers' 2013 third-round draft pick:
"Wheaton may have been the most promising vertical receiver in the 2013 draft thanks to a combination of speed and ability to beat press coverage. With [Emmanuel] Sanders and Cotchery both elsewhere, the starting spot opposite Antonio Brown is Wheaton's to lose."

Here are four other breakout candidates for the Steelers -- all players are eligible -- with training camp starting Friday.

Jones: The 2013 first-round pick is stronger and not just physically. A firmer grasp on the playbook should allow Jones to play faster this season after he managed just one sack despite starting eight games in 2013. Throw in the tutelage he will receive on a daily basis from defensive assistant Joey Porter and all signs point to Jones making a considerable jump this season. His development is critical to the Steelers returning to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

CB Cortez Allen: He has the potential to be a No. 1 cornerback and now is the time for Allen to put everything together after showing flashes his first three seasons. The 6-1, 196-pounder has good size and ball skills and he may be playing for a contract. Allen is entering the final year of his rookie deal though I think he is the most likely Steelers player to sign a long-term contract before the start of the season.

OT Mike Adams: The 2012 second-round pick rebounded nicely after losing his starting job at left tackle four games into last season. Don't discount that or how a stabbing suffered in June of 2013 might have set him back physically. If anyone can unlock Adams' enormous potential it is new offensive line coach Mike Munchak, and Adams will be given a chance to win a starting job during training camp. Whether that is at left or right tackle remains to be seen.

NT Steve McLendon: He has added 20 pounds to deal with the physical rigors of holding your ground in the middle of a 3-4 defense. A year removed from replacing five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton at nose tackle, McLendon is also more sure of himself. The former undrafted free agent could develop into a three-down player because of his ability to provide an inside rush when the Steelers employ their nickel defense.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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