Draft provides some helping hands for Steelers offense
April 30, 2013 8:00 AM
Don Ryan/Associated Press
Markus Wheaton, the Steelers' third-round pick, claims to run a 4.3 40.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What's left of the Young Money Crew will merge with the New Young Money Crew and a couple of geezers, and somewhere in there the Steelers will find themselves a receiving corps for 2013.
Ben Roethlisberger will have new targets to break in this spring and summer. The Steelers apparently liked the formula that delivered Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown in the 2010 draft so much that they tried it again over the weekend.
They drafted receivers in the third and sixth rounds. They went for speed in the third round with Markus Wheaton of Oregon State, and height in the sixth round with 6-foot-3 Justin Brown of Oklahoma via Penn State.
"We look at Markus Wheaton as a speed receiver that can get deep," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "Justin Brown [was an] opportunity to add a big receiver."
Neither Colbert nor Mike Tomlin or anyone else knows quite how either will fit, but if Wheaton has the kind of speed he and they say he does, then he could become a more polished Mike Wallace, the Steelers' third-round draft choice in 2009.
Wheaton says he has run a 4.3 in the 40 (Wallace was sub-4.3), but he ran a 4.45 at the combine. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said that was a good thing, just as it was when Jarvis Jones ran a slow time at his pro day.
"When you have guys that you like, you aren't rooting for them to run fast and get a lot of attention," Haley said. "I know it probably hurt his feelings and made him feel bad, but we were happy because when you put on the tape, he plays fast. He's a fast player and quick. He will be an exciting guy to have around."
The Steelers had planned to move Emmanuel Sanders to Wallace's split end spot (where he backed him up). Wheaton's speed suits that as well and he has experience playing in the slot, too. They can mix and match with Brown, Sanders and Wheaton, provided the rookie develops quickly enough.
The Steelers also have veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress.
"We have a nice mix right now of inside and outside guys," Haley said. "To have a guy that, especially early, is contributing on special teams and knows multiple positions including inside and outside spots, I think that's a big positive with Markus."
Wheaton caught a school-record 227 passes in his career, although not anywhere near the big-play numbers in college that Wallace produced with the Steelers. Wheaton averaged 13.2 yards per catch at Oregon State.
The Steelers, though, think he comes in as a more well-rounded receiver than Wallace, whom Tomlin kept calling a "one-trick pony" in his first few years.
"I saw Mike as more of an outside receiver, outside the numbers," Haley said. "This guy has played the slot a bunch when he wasn't outside. He is a little wider base [than Wallace], a little more running back build, in my opinion. The speed comparison -- it's hard for anyone to run faster than Mike, but this guy does play fast."
Wallace caught 39 passes as a rookie in 2009 for 756 yards for a team that started two 1,000-yard receivers, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and had opened up its passing game. Wallace started five games that year.
With Holmes gone, Wallace became a starter in 2002 and had his best season with 1,257 yards, 60 receptions, 10 touchdowns and a 21-yard average per catch.
The Steelers matched the one-year, $2.5 million contract Sanders signed with New England, and Colbert said they will talk to him about a long-term deal this summer. Sanders' agent said while they are open to signing a new contract, they want a substantial one. That, and the drafting of Wheaton and Brown, might indicate the Steelers are aware Sanders could depart in free agency in 2014.
Brown transferred from Penn State last year and did not have to sit out a season because of the NCAA ruling after its sanctions against Penn State that allowed transfers to play immediately.
Brown caught 35 passes in 2011 at Penn State and then thrived in the high-octane Oklahoma offense with 73 receptions from quarterback Landry Jones, drafted in the fourth round by the Steelers. Brown also returned punts for the Sooners with a 13.6-yard average and one touchdown. The Steelers think he has a higher-than-average chance of making the team than the usual sixth rounder because of his additional play on special teams.
"I just feel really good about what I saw on tape," new Steelers receives coach Richard Mann said about Brown. "I am a big film guy. He is a big guy. He is very productive. I think he has good toughness and that's part of being a good receiver. He can catch the football."