Remembering underappreciated Steelers is a new series where we will give praise to some of the forgotten or underappreciated Steelers players in recent years. Some of these guys definitely didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but they played their role and played it well. This installment focuses on Markus Wheaton.
Markus Wheaton was an underappreciated Pittsburgh Steelers player during his time in the black and gold. He was overshadowed by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and later the emergence of Martavis Bryant. But for two years, Wheaton was a very underrated weapon on a loaded Steelers offense. He was drafted by Pittsburgh 79th overall in the 2013 draft and didn’t have much of a role as a rookie. In 2014 and 2015 though, Wheaton had seasons that shouldn’t be forgotten in recent Steelers history.
Remembering Markus Wheaton
In a disappointing rookie year, Wheaton only totaled six receptions and 64 yards in 12 appearances. After the 2013 season, Pittsburgh lost Emmanuel Sanders to free agency. This made it apparent that Wheaton would have a bigger role in the offense moving forward. In that 2014 season, Wheaton finished second among Steelers receivers in both receptions and yards with 53 and 644, respectively. He was overshadowed by Brown, who was far and away the best receiver in the NFL that season. Wheaton played an important role opposite Brown and also when he moved into the slot after Bryant emerged as a stud receiver. Wheaton’s best game of the season came in the opener, when he racked up 97 yards on six catches in a win over the Cleveland Browns.
Entering the 2015 season, it seemed like Wheaton’s role would take a step back in the Steelers offense. This changed, though, when Martavis Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the year. Bryant missed a fifth game due to injury, too. In Week 5, Wheaton recorded his career long reception, a 72-yard touchdown from Michael Vick in Pittsburgh’s walkoff win over the San Diego Chargers.
Wheaton’s career game was in Week 9 that year against the Seattle Seahawks. Back then, Seattle was in the peek of the Legion of Boom, as they had the number one overall and number two passing defense that year. The Seahawks contained Brown and Bryant better than most teams could, but it was Wheaton who stepped up and had a monster game (Seattle’s one weakness in the secondary that year was covering the opposing slot receiver). He finished with career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (201) in that game, including a 69-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh lost the game 39-30, as they typically did in the mid-2010s: great offense let down by bad defense. Nonetheless, it was great to see Wheaton light up a seemingly invincible secondary in that game.
Overall, Wheaton finished the 2015 season third on the team among receivers in receptions (44) and yards (749). Five of his eight career touchdowns occurred in that season, and he led the Steelers in yards per reception.
End of Time in Pittsburgh
In 2016, Wheaton only appeared in three games for the Steelers before eventually being placed on IR with a shoulder injury. His contract was up in Pittsburgh and he wasn’t brought back on a new deal. He was signed by the Chicago Bears for two years, but was released after the first season there. Wheaton recorded just three receptions and 51 yards in Chicago. He spent 2018 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but appeared in just one game and didn’t record a stat.
It was unfortunate to see Markus Wheaton’s career end the way it did. For those two good years in the black and gold, Steelers fans should always appreciate the contribution’s he made to one of the league’s top offenses.
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