Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton deserves a high grade
There are players out there that get a lot of hype. There are better players who fly under the radar. Markus Wheaton falls into the second category.
It’s not hard to work out why he doesn’t get much attention. ESPN lists him at 6-1 and 182lbs – but Scouts Inc has him down at just 5-11. He plays for a solid Oregon State programme that doesn’t generate many national headlines. He’s a senior receiver in an era where top wide outs are leaving for the NFL as redshirt sophomore’s. None of that blows you away. Put on the tape, and you instantly see why this guy deserves more hype.
I’m sure you’re all aware of De’Anthony Thomas at Oregon. Want to know who runs faster than De’Anthony Thomas? Markus Wheaton.
Back in May both players competed in the 100 metres race at the Oregon Twilight track and field meet. Washington’s Ryan Hamilton finished first with a time of 10.51 seconds. Wheaton was second in 10.58, with Thomas third at 10.65. Granted it was ‘Black Mamba’s’ debut race and Wheaton is a senior, but a wins a win.
The speed flashes up on tape – see the video above for Wheaton’s performance against Arizona State this year. Yet it’s not the pure speed that intrigues me the most. It’s the maturity, the understanding he shows running routes and his willingness to try and make blocks downfield. Receivers get a reputation for being the diva’s of football – and for the most part that reputation is justified. Wheaton is the anti-diva. He’s humble. He’s a team player. And he makes plays.
This year he registered 1323 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Against UCLA, Stanford and Oregon – his three toughest match-ups this year – he managed 24 catches, 348 yards and two touchdowns. The only team to shut him down this season? Washington. The Huskies gave up just two catches for 25 yards (NOTE – Wheaton left the game early after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit). Wheaton is three yards away from being listed among the top-ten receivers for yardage in college football. Another underrated receiver – DeAndre Hopkins at Clemson – is ranked at #9.
Want a comparison for Wheaton? How about Mike Wallace at Pittsburgh. They share similar physical attributes, they’re both capable of getting downfield and making plays. If you don’t want to pay a ton of money on the open market (if Wallace makes free agency next March), then consider drafting Wheaton instead. They’re very similar players. Wallace was a third round pick in 2009 – but undoubtedly would be a top-32 selection in a re-draft. Wheaton deserves to have a late fist or early second round grade too.
So what does he do well?
The first thing that stands out is the speed. He can get downfield and make plays, but given he’s not the biggest receiver he’s better working across the middle and making YAC. See the play in the video above at 0:43 where he runs a crisp route inside, makes the grab in traffic and just sprints away from the defense for a touchdown. He’s going to score cheap points at the next level simply due to his ability working in space.
You can use Wheaton in trick plays – as noted by the end around at 0:12. He finds the cut back lane and exploits it – exploding through the space and breaking off a big gain. There’s no reason why you couldn’t use him on a jet sweep, wide receiver screen or crossing pattern to get the ball in his hands and exploit that X-factor ability.
Check out the big running play at 1:25. Who’s sprinting downfield to make sure the runner finds the end zone? Markus Wheaton. The touchdown at 2:36 flashes his understanding of the offense and the route he needs to run. He’s on the same page as the quarterback, selling the route to the cornerback and then checking to grab the back-shoulder throw. Textbook completion for a score. At 3:34 he would’ve had another touchdown with a better throw. Wheaton beats his guy for speed and gets downfield with three yards of separation. The quarterback leads him to the sideline and he catches it – but a throw in front of the receiver and it’s a simple score.
Someone is going to draft this guy in the late first round or early second round. I think he deserves to be a top-32 grade and he’s probably the best 2013 eligible receiver if Brandon Coleman chooses to stay at Rutgers. Like I said, Mike Wallace type ability here. While people still wonder if Keenan Allen or Justin Hunter will crack the first round, keep an eye on this guy. A smart team will draft him early.
Seattle’s plans at quarterback ‘blown up’ by Russell Wilson?
The Seahawks have their quarterback of the future and his name is Russell Wilson. Any doubt was permanently removed as he engineered two long touchdown drives in Soldier Field on Sunday.
It’s not easy being a rookie quarterback. You have to act like a veteran and attempt to lead the team. Yet the more experienced and wealthier players in the locker room look back at you and think, “Who is this guy?” The way you win round the team and show you belong? Games like Sunday.
It’s not even a year since John Schneider was pleading for patience. He insisted the team wouldn’t panic in their search for a capable starting quarterback. They would bide their time. I’m not convinced he believed Seattle would’ve solved this issue by the end of 2012. Here’s my theory. Make of it what you will.
I suspect the Seahawks intended to go big on the quarterback position in 2013. They decided early in the process that the first round of the 2012 draft would be used to get a pass rusher – another key need. With three quarterbacks expected to go in the top ten last April, this would be a difficult problem for the Seahawks to solve. They weren’t going to chase the situation. Not yet, anyway.
Still, they had to do something. Tarvaris Jackson struggled as the starter and at the very least needed some healthy competition. When free agency opened, Seattle’s initial enquiry went to Chad Henne and a visit was schedule. He went to Jacksonville first and decided that was the right move to make. He stayed in Florida after starting his NFL career in Miami. Seattle – without many alternative options – arranged a visit with Matt Flynn.
At the time Flynn’s market was ice-cold. Touted as a prize asset following his big performance in relief of Aaron Rodgers, nobody picked up the phone until the Seahawks made their move several days into free agency. The interest didn’t really create a market. Miami arranged a visit but appeared lukewarm in their pursuit. And that was it. Flynn signed for the Seahawks on a deal worth $10m guaranteed.
I believe Schneider convinced Pete Carroll that Flynn could upgrade the position and handle things for at least a year. He could manage the situation. He could help the team continue it’s upward trend until they were ready to find that one player who could truly ’tilt the field’.
While they were unlikely to grab that guy in the first round of the 2012 draft, it didn’t stop them adding to the competition later on. Schneider targeted Russell Wilson specifically and Carroll bought into the concept and saw past the conventional wisdom that screamed a 5-10 quarterback couldn’t work. Wilson became the third part of this equation. Had another team come in for the Wisconsin quarterback before Seattle’s third round pick, I think they would’ve still targeted the position in rounds three or four. Kirk Cousins seems like a probable alternative.
The Seahawks went into the summer with three possible starting quarterbacks on their roster plus Josh Portis. Yet at the back of their planning, I still think they expected to have to wait to solve this issue in 2013. It would take Flynn, Jackson or Wilson to really blow the doors off to change that. And against the odds, Wilson has done it.
It’s not hard to think about who the Seahawks may have targeted in the 2013 draft. Pete Carroll speaks about Matt Barkley in the same way he talks about Wilson. In his Monday press conference this week, he was asked whether he’d worked with any other quarterbacks who had shown similar qualities to his current rookie starter. His answer?
“Matt Barkley was a guy… I talk about him a lot… but he was a guy that impressed me that was very, very comfortable with the position. Let me leave that for now.”
Carroll went on to talk about Wilson’s influence so far, checking his work ethic, relationship with his team mates and performance. He made a final reference saying he wasn’t totally surprised with Wilson’s success because he’d seen it happen with Barkley at USC. And I sensed, somewhere in the, “Let me leave that for now” was a tinge of disappointment. The realisation that any chance of working with Barkley has gone. Not that he’s likely to complain about that any time soon. As he often states, Wilson is the real deal.
Hey – maybe I’m reading too much into it. That was my reaction, though. And it fed my hunch that Carroll was probably zoned in on getting ‘his guy’ because he’d probably need ‘his guy’ by year four.
The relatively unexpected success in finding a starting quarterback in round three has probably put this regime ahead of schedule. Any expectations they had of drafting Barkley (or any other quarterback in round one next April) has been swept aside. Instead of looking for what many would consider the final piece of the puzzle – he’s already on the roster. He’s twelve games into his pro-career. By next year, he won’t have the rookie learning curve. The front office can target another area of the team for improvement in the early rounds of the draft.
If this theory has even a semblance of legitimacy, it could be the best failed plan in the history of the Seattle Seahawks. The third round guy who was too short for the NFL has solved the teams greatest need.