I tried to stay as quiet on this as long as possible, but I can stay quiet no longer. When playing fantasy football, I don’t go for the safe picks that help me sleep better at night. No no. I need the guys with major upside. You know, the guys who are in positions to skyrocket at their current value. Those players who come into the season with much riding on the line for them to perform and shut up the haters. The wide receivers that have been around to establish a report with their quarterback. I want guys like Markus Wheaton. This is now Wheaton’s fourth year with the Steelers and his biggest season yet. For one, it’s a contract year and his future with the team uncertain. Martavis Bryant is suspended for the year for substance abuse. Bell faces a possible four-game suspension (I think) for missed drug test(s). Also, there is no Heath Miller to be the security blanket for Ben “Linus” Roethlisberger. Enter Wheaton: a 4.45 speedster with a route tree that includes wheel routes, a deadly post from the slot, and dynamic footwork to get separation on the outside. On playerprofilier.com, Wheaton’s 9.5 yards per target (17.5 yards per reception) was good enough for ninth among all wide receivers in 2015. Mainly, there are three reasons why I like to target Markus Wheaton at his current ADP of 109 (WR51). Here they are:
No Bryant, no Miller, no Bell for four games? Yeah – I think these are reasons to be concerned. Oh, by the way, Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley addressed early this offseason that the team’s plan is to go for 30 a game. That’s where Wheaton comes in. Sure, Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in football. But he’s not enough to accomplish said feat. There are 173 targets that are now left up for grabs in the passing offense without Bryant and Miller. Time to eat, Markus! I expect Wheaton and Roethlisberger to pick up where they left off when Bell went down with is knee injury. In the last six games of the season, Wheaton had 476 yards and four touchdowns on just 28 targets. In the previous 10 games, he had 16 catches, 273 yards and 1 touchdown on 32 targets. Wheaton said back in May he felt he and Roethlisberger were becoming more in-sync and getting on the same page. Wheaton is going to get opportunities and this bodes well for me because I like targeting are guys that see the football go their way.
Familiarity with Roethlisberger’s offense is another reason to suggest Wheaton is in store for a big year. No receiver currently on the roster has played more games with Roethlisberger than Wheaton. I refuse to believe that Heyward-Bey will emerge as the No. 2 – he had some nice moments last year, but they were short lived. Heyward-Bey has never finished a season with more than eight fantasy points per game or with a catch rate higher than 51% (per FFToday). Then there’s Ladarius Green…we’ll see if he can live up to his 92.4 ADP (TE9). And lastly, we have Sammie Coates who is basically going into his rookie year considering he saw only two targets all of 2015 season. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger backed Wheaton prior to the 2015 season stating he could be “the breakout player of the year.” I know what you’re thinking – “that’s just players talk”. Yeah, you might be right. But I challenge you to look at the Steelers offense more closely and see what weapons (or lack thereof) surround Roethlisberger this year. Can you see now how I came to the conclusion Wheaton can be primed for a major uptick in production?
A healthy Roethlisberger:
I’m banking on the above statement to back Wheaton exploding onto the scene this season. In the past seven seasons that Roethlisberger has played at least 15 games, he has thrown for over 25 touchdowns four times AND in those seven seasons only once did he not throw more than 460 passes. Just like Kirk Cousins says – I like that. Remember the days of Mike Wallace catching 8-10 touchdowns PER YEAR with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders on the roster? How about 2012 the year where Miller, Brown, and Wallace, were all seeing 100+ targets? Or when Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 touchdowns on 46 catches in 2013? We have seen time and time again, Roethlisberger is going to throw the pigskin around to whoever’s available. In only 12 games, he still threw for more yards than Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers in 2015. In Ben, I trust, and apparently the fantasy community does, too. His Re-Draft ADP on Fantasy Authority is still around QB6 even with the Bell suspension looming.
What it comes down to is that there is too much equity at stake in the Steelers offense to not consider drafting Wheaton before WR51. None of the other guys, in my opinion, on the depth chart pose a real threat to Wheaton’s production. Green and Coates have basically never played with Roethlisberger, Heyward-Bey…enough said. In each season, Wheaton has progressively seen his numbers increase – good sign. He’s the no. 2 in an offense that ran the eighth most offensive plays and threw the sixth most passes in 2015 – great sign. What’s more, is you can get a guy that finished with numbers around Marvin Jones and Tyler Lockett (both going into new roles in 2016 I might add) a year ago nearly 30 picks later! When your draft rolls around to the eighth, ninth, or dare I say tenth round, don’t be afraid to take Wheaton. Don’t be afraid to go bold because of uncertainty. Make the pick that could have the other fantasy owners in your league patting you on the back come January.