Our pre-draft series continues with a look at one of the most productive wideouts available in this year’s draft.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t need to go very far if he needs to find a character reference for Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
All the 49ers head man has to do is walk down the hallway and talk to tight ends coach Reggie Davis, a former running backs coach at OSU.
Davis coached in Corvallis for three seasons (2008-2010), two of which featured Wheaton on the roster.
San Francisco’s coaching staff features many teachers with ties to the Pac-12 and Davis is no different. He’s quite familiar with Wheaton, a 6-foot, 189-pound wideout. One could presume the team’s personnel staff has done its due diligence and checked in with Davis about the young receiver.
The Oregon State product enjoyed his best collegiate season in 2012. Wheaton posted career highs with 91 receptions, 1,244 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches in his senior campaign. The breakout season earned him first-team All Pac-12 honors.
Wheaton surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for all-purpose yards in three consecutive seasons. He left school as OSU’s all-time receptions leader with 227 catches.
The production was nice, but Wheaton’s athleticism makes him confident about what he can achieve in the NFL.
“Speed, quickness, that's what type of receiver I am,” said the wideout who ran a 4.45-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I use a lot of speed, a lot of quickness. I have good hands.”
With 20 starts in his college career, Wheaton has been showcasing those talents for some time. The production and dependability earned him a spot as the eighth-ranked wide receiver in this year’s draft class according to CBSSports.com.
“I think I have all the tools necessary to be successful at the next level, whether it's route running, speed, hands,” Wheaton added.
Speed, in particular, has never been an issue for Wheaton. Still, the OSU product still wanted to polish his all-around game before April’s draft. Moreover, Wheaton has been focused on getting stronger so he can get off press-man coverage in the NFL.
“I've been working on that a lot,” Wheaton said.
It showed at the combine. Wheaton put up the 225-pound bench an impressive 20 times.
With improving strength and NFL-caliber speed, Wheaton offers position versatility to NFL teams. Besides lining up on the perimeter and in the slot, Wheaton carried the ball on fly-sweeps and end-rounds in Oregon State’s complex running schemes.
Such plays are utilized in the 49ers offense under offensive mastermind Greg Roman.
Wheaton’s willingness to do whatever necessary on the football field should make him a likable prospect for many NFL clubs.
“I'm comfortable wherever I'm at on the football field, whether it's punt returns, kick returns, gunner – anything like that I'm comfortable out there,” Wheaton said.
If Wheaton were to serve as a backup in his early NFL years, he can contribute on special teams. Wheaton fielded kickoffs as sophomore and, at times, punts as a senior.
NFL teams witnessed Wheaton’s unique talents up close and personal at the 2013 Senior Bowl.
Wheaton enjoyed a solid week of practice and caught four passes for 47 yards in the game.
Four quarters can’t overshadow four playing seasons at OSU, but Wheaton felt good about his week of performance against the nation’s top seniors.
“I think it kind of opened some eyes for guys,” Wheaton said. “My name I don't think was mentioned too often before the Senior Bowl… So it helped me out a lot.”
Wheaton especially enjoyed the challenge of facing the top cornerbacks at Senior Bowl practices, but it didn’t change his perception of the practice battles he had with fellow OSU prospect, Jordan Poyer.
When asked at the combine about the toughest defensive back he’s faced in college, Wheaton immediately singled out his teammate.
“He's a hog,” Wheaton said succinctly.
Wheaton, too, has some nasty talent. He still likes to keep a low-keyed approach.
“I'm more humble,” Wheaton said. “I'm not too outspoken. If you see me outside of something like this, I don't talk too much. But I just enjoy the game. I just enjoy playing football.”