Tracie Ford, the mother of West Virginia wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, is not an especially active social media user. But when you click on her Twitter profile, you are greeted with not a photo of her son, the Mountaineers receiver, nor is it a photo of her father Garrett Ford Sr., a former WVU and NFL running back. No, it’s a Pittsburgh Steelers logo.
Despite Ford-Wheaton growing up in North Carolina, Ms. Ford grew up in West Virginia as a Steelers fan, and as most Steelers fans know, that’s usually a life-long commitment.
With Ford-Wheaton set to enter the 2023 NFL Draft, that could make for some mixed allegiances. Unless, of course, he ends up donning the black and gold himself. So when he had a meeting with the Steelers staff at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas this week, she was obviously excited.
“It was definitely the first team my mom wanted to hear from,” Ford-Wheaton said. “When I called her and I told her I met with the Steelers she was excited and happy asking how it went. They have a good staff, a good front office. I love their coach, too. It went well, though. They got to see me play in person, especially with us playing in Pittsburgh at their stadium. They had a lot to say. It went good, though.”
That first game at Acrisure Stadium didn’t go the way anyone wanted. Ford-Wheaton had a monster game statistically, with nine catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. But it’s the one that would have been the 10th one that people will remember, as a pass off his hand was intercepted by Pitt’s MJ Devonshire and returned for the go-ahead touchdown late in the Backyard Brawl.
On that now-infamous play, Ford-Wheaton was wide open, with the ball caroming a solid five yards down field before Devonshire corralled it. That shows the separation that Ford-Wheaton had all day against Pitt’s cornerbacks. But Devonshire is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Wheaton did not have much to fear about being jammed at the line, by Devonshire or almost anyone else at the college level.
But his takeaway from the Shrine Bowl is that he’s going to need to find more ways to get more separation and deal with bigger, more physical cornerbacks in the NFL that do have ability to jam him at the line. He has the skillset and makeup, but his pro success may depend on if he can translate into an NFL system and learn an advanced route tree, which is something else he quickly realized he needs to figure out.
It’s now up to Ford-Wheaton to show NFL coaches and scouts that he can take the lessons he learned in Las Vegas and apply them to become the player he needs to be in the NFL. If he can do that, he just might end up back in Pittsburgh, and make his mom very, very happy.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Measured at the Shrine Bowl: 6-foot-3 1/2, 222 pounds, 9 3/8-inch hands, 33 5/8-inch arm span, 82 1/2-inch wingspan.
BRYCE FORD-WHEATON SCOUTING REPORT
From the Shrine Bowl: West Virginia’s Bryce Ford-Wheaton was often lined up on the outside during practice at the Shrine Bowl. He was used mostly as a deep ball threat on either side. While he didn’t experience the ball actually going his way through two days of practices at the Shrine Bowl, Ford-Wheaton was able to get by his man, whether that be burning down the field or curling inside. This showed off his ability to create separation and use his underrated speed and athleticism. He mentioned that he hadn’t experienced having to deal with press man coverage that much prior to the Shrine Bowl, which makes his success getting away from elite cornerback talent a plus, but also something he needs to keep working on. He did block well when a teammate caught a pass and was trying to gain extra yards, showing an unselfishness that made him a popular team player at WVU.
HOW DOES HE FIT?
The Steelers only backup outside receiver from the 2022 season, Miles Boykin, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this March. Boykin probably won’t take a big salary cap hit to lock up, but this Steelers could certainly look to find a younger play to fill that role with a little bit more potential upside. With his raw skillset, Ford-Wheaton figures to be a player that serves as an end-of-the-bench backup for a little while before he earns a role. The question will be if he can replicate Boykin’s important contributions to special teams.
WHERE WILL BRYCE FORD-WHEATON BE DRAFTED?
Once considered an early Day Three pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Bryce Ford-Wheaton has seen his stock drop dramatically since the end of the season. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, he is now projected to go undrafted as the No. 336 prospect. But there’s a long way to go until that point, and a strong week at the Shrine Bowl and a fast time in the 40 can go a long way at the wide receiver position.