KCCD Staff Writer: Sam Mitchell
Athleticism: Wheaton has deep speed to separate down the field and be a vertical threat in the NFL. On film he consistently ran past corners and safeties when they didn’t get hands on him and was able to make a lot of plays down the field. His vertical speed was confirmed with a 40 yard dash time of 4.45 seconds. Despite his nice deep speed, Wheaton’s greatest athletic asset is his quickness and acceleration.
Coming off the line of scrimmage Wheaton is able to hit top speed very quickly and blows past defenders who don’t get their hands on him; does not have to build to full speed. Very quick and explosive coming out of cuts and breaks; Wheaton sinks his hips, plants his foot and explodes out at nearly full speed, very sudden mover. He is also very quick laterally in the open field, changing direction and making defenders miss at times. Wheaton is an instant accelerator who eats up cushion and runs by defenders close to the line.
Wheaton’s quickness also shows on double moves where he throttles down, then is able to throw it into top gear again to gain separation. Wheaton displayed the open field quickness and agility to stop and start on a dime, and squeeze through creases in the open field to be a playmaker with the ball in his hand. Wheaton is 5’11”, not tiny by any means but also not a big imposing physical threat either. Wheaton needs to improve his overall strength going to the next level, as he can be knocked off of routes and normally goes down on first real contact.
Route Running: Despite his size, Wheaton does have quite a bit of experience running routes over the middle. Wheaton showed good feel running crossing routes against zone and has experience finding holes in zone and sitting down in them underneath. Wheaton will make a ton of his plays on the outside at the next level; on outside breaking routes, he really explodes out of his breaks, planting his inside foot and driving out. Wheaton has very good vertical speed, but most of his separation on short and intermediate routes comes from his quickness. Wheaton can gain a step off the line and consistently creates a lot of separation coming out of his breaks. Wheaton is a fluid route runner as he doesn’t throttle down going into his break and coming out of his breaks; it’s very hard for DBs to stay with him out of breaks. He explodes out of breaks to create room for QB to fit the ball in.
Wheaton also displays very quick feet at the line which helps him get by jams at the line. On one especially impressive play near the goal line Wheaton used his feet to fake inside, flipping the corners hips, then cut back out to gain an outside release, creating separation for an easy fade. Overall, I did not see Wheaton against a ton of physical press, but a few things stood out in the plays where he did face true press at the line. While Wheaton did have the feet to beat press coverage off the line in college, pro defenders will be quicker and more physical, so it was good to see that he did use his hands to disengage from press when it was needed. His hand placement could improve, but it was good to see that he didn’t just rely on his feet to get around the jam as that will not work in the NFL, which spells a lot of trouble for some receivers entering the league. As mentioned above, Wheaton is not especially strong, which showed as he did prove susceptible to being jolted by a strong punch at the line, throwing off his timing and get off.
Wheaton has the combination of deep speed, quickness, and acceleration you want from a route runner, but could improve even more in creating separation if he learns to disguise his routes a little bit better. Wheaton will at times lean into his breaks and give away the direction of his pattern; not all of his stems look the same and you can sometimes tell when an outside breaking route is coming he will lean that way. Wheaton also rounds off the top of his routes at times, negating some of his quickness by giving ground to the DB. Most of these complaints are minor and coachable however and at this point route running is one of Wheaton’s greatest strengths as he is able to create consistent separation with his quickness and explosion.
Hands/Ball Skills: Wheaton shows impressive concentration catching the ball over the middle and on contact. Multiple times Wheaton came down with the catch despite receiving a big hit at the time the ball arrived; will sacrifice his body for the catch. On deep passes Wheaton shows the ability to track and adjust to the over the shoulder pass downfield. He has the burst to catch up to and run under slightly over thrown the ball and create last second separation with the ball in the air. Wheaton had a couple of body catches, but also displayed natural hands to pluck the ball out of the air and away from his body when necessary. Wheaton high points the ball and comes down with it when he goes up to get it. Strong hands; only drop was a concentration drop. No double catches in the games I saw; confident in his hands. Wheaton also consistently displayed great awareness and body control around the sidelines to dot the “i” and get his feet in bounds; great concentration outside. Wheaton ran a ton of out routes, consistently displaying the ability to control his body along the sideline and stay inbounds. Not a physical downfield; could have the ability to go up and get the contested ball, but I didn’t see many of these situations in his games.
Wheaton is a player that Oregon State always tried to get the ball to in space. Wheaton received hand offs and end arounds and reverses and also was thrown to on a lot of bubble screens. Wheaton is not overly big or physical, but is quick and nifty enough with the ball in his hands to make defenders miss and be a threat in the open field. Wheaton is very natural with the ball in his hands and has the vision and instincts to set up moves and find creases in the defense to gain extra yards; stops and starts on a dime. Wheaton doesn’t have a ton of kick or punt return experience but has the tools to be a threat in that area of the game in the NFL.
Blocking: Wheaton is not an impactful blocker due to his size and doesn’t have great form as he will often fall of blocks, but Wheaton gives full effort in his blocking every single play, whether it is a run of a pass to another receiver. Wheaton plays with a ton of heart and always attempts to throw a block or at least get in the way. On one long run against California, Wheaton ran over 30 yards down the field with the back blocking a DB. Wheaton also displays his blocking effort in the passing game, running all the way across the field the block for fellow receivers who catch the ball and getting involved in blocking for bubble screens. On any long run, whether it be a designed run or YAC, Wheaton is downfield attempting to block for whoever has the ball. Very impressive effort and selflessness for a number one wide receiver. He doesn’t have the strength to ever be a great blocker, but with better technique combined with his motor he will be able to keep his man away from the ball carrier at the next level.
Intelligence/Intangibles: Wheaton is a very high effort, high motor team player as noted in the blocking section above. He also fought twice, that I saw, to deflect and break up passes that could have easily been interceptions. Some receivers tend to give up on these, but Wheaton fought to keep the ball out of the defenders hands. Wheaton also shows good ability to recognize and exploit coverages. On one play where the corner blitzed and he was left on a safety Wheaton read this instantly and exploded off the line of scrimmage on a vertical route right past the safety. Wheaton doesn’t give up on plays when they break down; works his way back to the QB when the pocket collapses and QB escapes. Team Captain.
Summary: Wheaton may lack the stature and physicality to impose his will over the field, but he makes up for it with exceptional quickness and explosion, solid hands, and outstanding effort. Wheaton has the combination of deep speed and quickness to be just as much of a threat running a nine route as he is catching a short crossing pattern with room to work in front of him. Wheaton is a dynamic threat because he can threaten all parts of the field. If pressed at the line he has speed to burn the defender, and if left alone at the line with a DB in off coverage he has the natural open field skills and agility to turn a ‘check with me’ quick pass to a 20 yard gain by making defenders miss.
Wheaton may not take over games at the next level, but he will be a reliable number two threat that brings more than just sure hands and consistent route running. With the quickness out of breaks to beat a defender on an island and the body control to bring the ball down in bounds on the sideline, Wheaton fits best as an outside ‘X’ receiver, but could also be moved to slot where he could use his burst and change of direction ability to create separation underneath. A very safe pick who will be both dependable and explosive on the next level, Wheaton should be an early contributor to an NFL offense.