The Steelers decided not to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders because they believed Markus Wheaton could develop into a dependable No. 2 receiver opposite Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has been impressed with his development since the end of last season.
“He’s learning and growing fast, and we need him to,” Roethlisberger said. “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.”
“He’s going to be key because, if we don’t have another receiver, people can just watch A.B.,” Roethlisberger said. “We all see what A.B. can do. We need him to step up because we can’t afford for teams to put three guys on A.B. I hope Wheaton is that guy.
“He’s a young guy people don’t know about yet. He hasn’t earned that respect, which is probably rightfully so, because he hasn’t done much. But I’m excited for him because I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
The Steelers play a lot of three-WR sets, so we’re expecting big snaps for Wheaton even if Lance Moore is on the field for two-WR sets, though it currently looks like Wheaton will be the WR2. He was a 3rd round pick and is a terrific athlete. He’s not big (5’11”) but he fits the mold of a typical Steeler receiver. Despite a short resume, Wheaton is a breakout candidate if he sees big snaps in his second year. In the last four seasons, Hines Ward, Antonio Brown (x2) and Sanders have averaged 65-848-4.5 in the Steelers’ WR2 role.