The wide receiver class in the 2013 NFL Draft is as deep as any position has been in recent years. There won't be an obvious A.J. Green or Julio Jones at the top, but there will be excellent talent spread throughout all seven rounds. One guy who has been working his way into most people’s top five lists is Markus Wheaton of Oregon State.
After racking up more than 1,000 all-purpose yards in both 2010 and 2011, the slight but speedy senior exploded in 2012, ending the year with 91 catches for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’ll leave Corvallis as the Beavers’ all-time leading receiver (227 catches), which is saying something for a school who has seen the likes of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, James Rogers, and Chad Johnson aka Chad Ochocinco aka Chad Johnson.
As a guy who has “Beat notable college speedster DeAnthony Thomas in a 100m sprint” on his resume, Wheaton has unquestionable speed. But does he have the football tools to go with it? Let’s take a look.
| Ht || Wt || Class || Ranking || Projection |
| 5'11" || 189 || Senior || 107 || Late First-Mid Second |
Speed: Wheaton’s biggest asset is definitely his speed. Though he only ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine, he has elite football speed. He was often used on jet sweeps and bubble screens where the Beavers just gave him the ball and let him do the rest. He can eat up cushion off the line in a heartbeat, and he can pull away from defensive backs in the open field.
Route Running: Often players with Wheaton’s speed are just track stars who get lost on the gridiron. But Wheaton is more than that. He has smart and quick in his route running, showing an understanding of most of the routes on the route tree. He sets defensive backs up with head fakes and route angles, and sinks his hips well, exploding out of his breaks. Also, Oregon State is one of relatively few colleges who regularly use press coverage, so Wheaton has presumably had plenty of experience with it. In the games I viewed, he faced press a few times and showed great quickness and technical ability to overcome it.
Catch Radius: As I’ve said before, catch radius involves arm length, vertical jump, ability to pluck the ball away from one’s body, and ability to high-point the ball at the top of one’s jump. For his size, Wheaton has a fantastic catch radius. His arms and hands (32 ¾” and 9 ?”) are big for a smaller receiver, and his 37” vertical is solid for his size. His college quarterbacks were often less than accurate, and he demonstrated good body control and strong hands to adjust in the air and make catches away from his body. He also tracks the ball well over his shoulder, even hauling in throws that were off the mark.
Size: Wheaton’s biggest concern at the next level will be his ability to absorb big hits and stay healthy. At only 5’11” and 189 pounds, he’s actually not much smaller than Mike Wallace of the Steelers, so there’s certainly a precedent for that type of player succeeding in the NFL. He’s already showed that he’s fearless going across the middle at Oregon State, and if he keeps that up in the NFL, he’ll take some big shots from NFL linebackers and safeties.
Blocking: His blocking is probably his biggest technical weakness, and it’s not for lack of effort. He’s an incredibly willing, aggressive blocker, but he’s small and tends to overextend as he latches on to a defender. He’s at his best as a blocker when he’s sprinting downfield ahead of a teammate and just screening defenders away. No one on the field was as fast as him in college, so he could escort any teammate into the end zone that way.
Given his lack of size and his deficiencies as a blocker, some teams may not consider him a starting caliber wide receiver, and will prefer to see him used as a pure deep threat. However, I think the rest of his game is plenty well-rounded, and I think he has a bright future in the Torrey Smith/Mike Wallace mold, as a solid #2 with elite deep speed to take the top off the defense, with the technical precision to make shorter catches, and the experience and quicks to take direct snaps, reverses, and jet sweeps.
He won’t last the second round, for sure, and he may sneak into the back end of the first round if a team like the Patriots or the Texans sees the potential in his skillset.