Who Will Fill The WR2 Spot?
The Pittsburgh Steelers proved last season that their offense is one of the most dangerous in all of football. Even when running back Le’Veon Bell went down with an injury, DeAngelo Williams stepped in and produced Bell-like numbers.
Their receiving corps remained solid all season long and ended up putting up the most fantasy points for wide receivers. Pittsburgh receivers averaged 32.5 fantasy points per game, and while a majority of those went to Antonio Brown, the depth that they had stood out among most of the other teams in the league.
However, this season the Steelers will be without their number two wide out, Martavis Bryant due to a yearlong suspension due to violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. This void is a tough one to fill. Bryant ranked 33rd among wide receivers last year in standard leagues posting 765 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
This leaves the question, where will the 92 targets from Bryant go?
Usually one could look toward the draft for wide receiver talent, but the Steelers focused more on the defensive side of the ball in April’s draft.
But even with that in mind, there are two real candidates for the number two job in Pittsburgh, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates.
2015 stats: 44 receptions, 749 yards, 5 touchdowns
Markus Wheaton is the obvious choice to take over the gap left by Bryant. He was a solid number three target for the Steelers and was targeted 79 times over the course of the season and really started to come on strong toward the end of the regular season for the Steelers. He had four touchdown receptions in the last six weeks including a game against the Seahawks in which he caught nine passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.
The Case: Wheaton is entering into his fourth season in the Steelers system, and so the offensive scheme is already one that he knows. On top of that, he has built a nice rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Over the aforementioned six week span, Wheaton ranked 12th among wide receivers in fantasy football. He played well on a per target basis last season as well. Out of 121 eligible wide receivers, Wheaton ranked 22nd in standard formats and 27th in PPR formats in fantasy points per target. He was able to make the most of his targets and was targeted 13 times in two games in the postseason last year, making the case that he was targeted when it mattered, so with Bryant out, Roethlisberger could easily look in his direction once again.
2015 stats: 1 reception, 11 yards, 0 touchdowns
Sammie Coates is more of an idealist’s pick to take over the role left by Martavis Bryant. The 23-year old out of Auburn is entering his second season after being taken in the third round of last year’s NFL draft. He played in just six games during the regular season last year and was only targeted twice. However, in the playoff loss against the Broncos, he was targeted three times, catching two passes for 61 yards, showing that the potential is there for a more involved role in this Steelers offense that heavily relies on the arm of Big Ben.
The Case: Coates has a profile more similar to Martavis Bryant than Wheaton does. Bryant stands at 6’4’’ and 211 pounds. Coates is 6’1’’ and 212 pounds and Wheaton is just 5’11’’ and 189 pounds. Looking strictly at size, Coates is a much more similar target for Roethlisberger to hit than Wheaton, especially inside the red zone where his size and physicality could lead to not only points on the scoreboard, but also points in fantasy matchups. Inside the Steelers organization, people are praising the development of Coates in just one year and are excited to see where he will end up this year.
Both of these receivers have reasons to get excited for the 2016 season, and realistically, without Bryant in the game, both will see more time and targets. In an offense as explosive as Pittsburgh’s, it is possible both of them will have breakout years, but either way, it will be interesting to see this battle shape out once training camp begins.