In large part thanks to his blazing speed, Markus Wheaton saw the field early in his Oregon State career. As a true freshman, he was frequently used on end-arounds (he had eleven carries for 79 yards and a score) and also caught a few passes. With a bit of seasoning under his belt, Wheaton led the Beavers in receiving in 2010, and was again used regularly on sweeps (27-220, two TD). As a junior, his numbers increased; he started all 12 games, leading the team in receiving (73-986, TD) for the second year in a row, and meriting honorable mention All-Pac 12 honors. In 2012, Wheaton earned First Team All-Pac 12 laurels after a breakout 91-grab, 1,244 yards and 11 touchdown season. He finished his time in Corvallis as Oregon State's all-time record holder with 227 career receptions.
Wheaton's most obvious asset is his track-worthy speed. He combines this with tremendous quickness to zoom past defenders, and to cut without slowing down. Every time he lines up, whether he catches or runs with the ball, he's a big play waiting to happen; no wonder he has drawn comparisons to ex-Steeler Mike Wallace. During Senior Bowl week, Wheaton consistently ran around and through defensive backs. But he's not merely a track athlete in pads; Wheaton displays toughness, willingly making receptions over the middle, and seeking extra yardage when running in heavy traffic.
His speed and explosiveness are evident on tape. Thanks once again to the excellent fellows at Draft Breakdown, we have video of Wheaton in action against Pac-12 rivals Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, and UCLA, as well as a non-conference tilt against BYU. His skillset was also evident at the Combine, where he recorded top times in the 40-yard dash (4.45), vertical jump (37-inches), short shuttle (4.02), long shuttle (11.16) and bench press (20 reps).
Plus, he's an "RKG." Wheaton's teammates voted him team captain.
What does our prescient panel of pigskin prognosticators proclaim about Wheaton's productive proclivities? Peruse, pals...
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 10th-rated WR; 87th overall
Separation Skills: Quick-twitched and sudden athlete. Fast starter that can eat up cushion. Flashes ability to burst out of break. But can be a bit tight getting in and out of cuts. Does not separate as well as he should on some intermediate routes. But does show ability to throttle quickly from top speed when running comebacks. Impressed with his head and shoulder fakes, and is doing a much better job in 2012 of changing speeds to set up routes (see: 5:45 2nd QTR vs. UCLA). Needs to continue to add bulk and strength as a route runner. Also can do a better job of wading through traffic working against zone coverage. Does show a good feel for soft spots in zone coverage though.
Ball Skills: Many catches in this offense are on quick-hitters and screens, but he shows the ability to consistently catch the football on intermediate routes, vertical routes and over the middle of the field. Displays soft and natural hands and catches the ball away from his frame. Shows ability to pluck on the run without breaking stride. Occasionally will cradle the ball and let it into pads, but attacks ball away from his frame more often than not. Displays good body control adjusting to throws outside of frame. Many times on tape that he adjusts to off-target throws. Tracks the deep ball extremely well and flashes ability to elevate and high point the ball. Needs to get stronger in traffic and does not have the frame to box defenders out to consistently make contested catch.
Big Play Ability: A quick starter with good top-end speed (doesn't play quite as fast as track numbers indicate, but still has speed to take top off of defense). While he tracks the deep ball well and can adjust, he lacks ideal size and strength to consistently win physical jump-ball opportunities down the field. Not the most elusive runner after the catch but is effective in that department. He has good stop-start ability and consistently shakes the first defender. He's decisive and can explode through a crease. Also shows good vision as an open field runner. Has speed to become a dangerous return weapon but experience in that area is limited.
Competitiveness: Willing to work the middle of the field. Flashes focus to secure the ball in traffic but needs to get stronger in contested situations. Fights for yards after the catch. Not the strongest blocker but gives very good effort in that area and really works to sustain. Impressed by his field awareness, as well.
Intangibles: Did not redshirt; will be a 22-year old rookie. Selected as a team captain in 2012. A competitor and hard worker. Well respected by teammates and coaches. Extremely active in community service and traveled to Guatemala to help build houses for the needy in the spring of 2011. He is also a sprinter on the schools track team. Has recorded 6.82 in the 60M (March, 2011) and 10.58 in the 100M (May, 2012). Son of Odis and Katrina Wheaton. Odis played basketball at Howard. Has three siblings, including brother Marquese, who played DB at Southern Miss (2010-'11). Majoring in public health.
CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 8th-rated WR; 60th overall
Strengths: Very good straight-line speed that translates well onto the gridiron. Eats up the cushion due to his quick burst off the snap. Has a good arm-over swim move and the lateral agility to elude when pressed. Very experienced against press coverage due to the fact Oregon State uses this technique with their cornerbacks. Savvy, athletic route-runner. Can drop his hips and shows good balance, burst out of his breaks to generate separation. Recognizes holes in zone and settles nicely, keeping himself alive to aid his quarterback. Talented pass catcher. Shows the ability to snatch passes out of the air and has good body control to contort. Good deep ball receiver, showing the ability to track the ball over either shoulder. Has good lateral agility to elude defenders in tight quarters and has an effective stiff-arm and good balance to generate yardage after the catch. Alert and a surprisingly competitive blocker given his relatively slight frame. Good bloodlines. Cousin of former Dallas Cowboys defensive back Kenny Wheaton.
Weakness: Possesses a narrow frame and is especially thin in his lower body, leading to some concern as to where he'll fit best in the NFL. Owes much of his statistical success to Oregon State's quick-hitting passing attack, which features a lot of screens and other short routes. Has struggled, at times, with drops when he's attempted to make defenders miss before securing the ball or when trailing back over the middle on drag routes, leading to some concerns over "alligator arms" in traffic.
Compares to: Bernard Berrian, WR, ex-Chicago Bears/Minnesota Vikings -- Like the former Fresno State product, Wheaton can blame the so-called East Coast bias for his lack of national coverage despite proving himself to be a playmaker over his career. Like Berrian, Wheaton is a big-play threat whenever the ball is in his hands, but his spindly frame could keep him from reaching his maximum potential.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 12th-rated WR; 77th overall
Positives: Nice arm length. Quick laterally. Legitimate deep speed - can take the top off the defense. Explosive athleticism. Good leaper (37-inch vertical). Gets on top of DBs and makes high-speed cuts to separate. Tracks, adjusts, and contorts. Hands catcher. Can take a hit and hold on. Aware along the boundary - can "dot the I" [get his feet down in bounds]. Dangerous after the catch - can turn a short throw into a long gain. Improved steadily over four years. Very durable. Terrific personal and football character.
Negatives: Small target. Needs to get functionally stronger to combat press - can be rerouted by physical corners. Underpowered blocker - lacks the stature and strength to seal and sustain outside. Tougher than he is physical. Could stand to improve his focus and shorten his memory - tends to dwell on concentration drops. Limited return experience.
Summary: Adequate-sized, wiry, instinctive speed merchant with big-play, deep-strike ability who can develop into a No. 2 threat, factor at multiple spots and contribute in the return game. Smarts, toughness and competitiveness add to his appeal, and he warrants consideration from teams that employ vertical offenses such as the Falcons, Lions, Broncos and Steelers.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 5th-rated WR; 44th overall
Three-year starter. A speed receiver who can win in transition. Instant acceleration and explosiveness up the field after catch. Can freeze a defender's feet. Makes the finger tipped catch or snatches an off-target fastball. Runs sharp routes with good body control and ease of movement. Explosive speed and foot quickness. Has a third gear burst after the catch. A three level receiver with strong hands. Can play both inside and outside receiver. Sudden in and out of his breaks. Competitive at the ball. Runs good routes and can make the overhead catch over either shoulder. Tracks the ball well. Gets back on route if jammed in press coverage. Caught 227 balls in his career. Needs to develop more upper and lower body strength for durability purposes. Sometimes plays too fast running pass patterns. Must gear down at times. An eventual starter with some NFL developmental time.
Our panel slots Wheaton between the 44th and 87th slots, which places him in the mid-second to the mid-third rounds. Indeed, this seems to correlate to what I've seen among all scouting types. Because of his speed and big-play ability, I'll slot Wheaton in round two on my 2013 "little board," but will hope he lasts until the third (pick 80, to be precise)
As I noted in my summary of Terrance Williams, the Cowboys appear to be looking for a receiver capable of testing defenses vertically. Of the guys fitting this profile who they invited to the Ranch, Wheaton is my favorite, as he combines scary speed with good route running and receiver savvy. The dilemma I'm facing is: do I want to spend a second rounder on him? While I think he's certainly worth one, the Cowboys have so many needs, many of which seem to be more dire than wideout, that I'm hoping one of these speed merchants can stick around until the third round, where they can pick him up after fortifying both lines.
If the draft indeed breaks that way, it would warm Ol' Rabble's cold, cold heart...
Next up: North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard