The Pittsburgh Steelers saw it coming, but it was still a big loss to have wide receiver Mike Wallace depart for the Miami Dolphins in free agency this offseason. With the Steelers missing the playoffs and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling a season ago, the loss hurts even more.
General manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin targeted two receivers in the 2013 NFL Draft, getting Oregon State's Markus Wheaton in the third round and former Penn State and Oklahoma WR Justin Brown in round six. Heading into their rookie season, these receivers are going to need to develop quickly, as noted by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh is hoping that Wheaton, who is a fast receiver with all the tools to be a deep threat, can replace Wallace. To start the season, Emmanuel Sanders will take over Wallace's spot, but the team is hoping that Wheaton will develop quickly and perhaps take some snaps from Sanders at the split end spot.
Brown is a big-bodied, tall receiver who will hopefully grow into a red zone threat for the Steelers. Closing out drives was a problem last season, and the other receivers currently in Pittsburgh don't inspire much confidence in that vein.
Then there's Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. Antonio had 787 yards and five touchdowns last season (Wallace had 836 yards and eight touchdowns). Cotchery had just 205 yards with no touchdowns and Burress had a paltry 42 yards and one touchdown.
The top two receivers will be Antonio Brown and Sanders heading into the season, but Wheaton should see some playing time early based on the fact that there's not much else there. He'll need to develop quickly to do this, if the Steelers are to improve and make it back to the playoffs, as neither Brown nor Sanders are likely to develop into game-breaking receivers.