We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers did not have as many starters as last year hit free agency, but as of yet, they have only re-signed one of note, Chukwuma Okorafor. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already signed elsewhere, but others such as Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and Terrell Edmunds remain unsigned.
They were substantially active in free agency, however, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew, Montravius Adams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and J.C. Hassenauer. They also signed linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in outside free agency, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, cornerback Levi Wallace, wide receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Myles Jack, and outside linebacker Genard Avery.
The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner. As of now, they have not restructured any contracts, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is likely.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 8
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 3
Diontae Johnson: After posting a 107-1,161-8 season in 2021 and making the Pro Bowl, the pressure is on Johnson more than ever this year following a significant departure out of the Steelers’ wide receiver room. While he has a lot of talent, with a particular knack for getting open, there are still some rough corners of his game to be fine-tuned for him to take the next level and truly establish himself as a top-10 player at his position.
Chase Claypool: Nobody has called Claypool Mapletron in a while, and that’s in part because he hasn’t made too many plays reminiscent of Calvin Johnson in the past year. That’s not entirely true—he did still deliver some highlight-reel catches in 2021, but they were fewer and far between, separated by more negative plays, and far less impact in the end zone.
Cody White: White spent most of the 2021 season as the Steelers’ number five receiver after being called up from the practice squad in the wake of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury. He was rarely called upon to contribute, but the team did like him, so he has a chance to stick.
Anthony Miller: A former second-round draft pick, Miller worked with Mitch Trubisky in Chicago. He spent most of the 2021 season on the Steelers’ practice squad after being signed mid-season, so he has an offseason to re-establish himself.
Steven Sims: Sims is another NFL veteran with playing experience who spent his time on the practice squad last year. Given the losses in the room, he, too, stands a fair chance of competing for a roster spot.
Rico Bussey: A rookie undrafted free agent, Bussey impressed the coaches during the offseason, enough to make the practice squad, where he spent the year, minus a stint on the Practice Squad/Injured List.
Tyler Vaughns: Vaughns was signed to the practice squad after Bussey got hurt in September, and spent most of the rest of the year there, minus some minor roster transactions. Like Bussey, he is tall, which the Steelers like in their practice squad receivers.
Gunner Olszewski: Signed for his return ability, Olszewski was an All-Pro in that department in 2020, though fumbles last year helped see him take a step back. He was brought in to take the place of Ray-Ray McCloud, and has said that he does expect to contribute on offense.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: The Steelers’ most veteran receiver, Smith-Schuster is now gone after five years with the club. A quickly-rising star, his past three years haven’t exactly gone as planned. He missed most of the 2021 season due to injury, and signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Chiefs this offseason.
James Washington: Feeling lost in the shuffle, Washington, a former second-round pick, was likely in a hurry to leave this offseason, signing a one-year deal with his hometown Cowboys. He owns a 40-acre ranch just hours away.
Ray-Ray McCloud: The biggest surprise loss was McCloud, signing a decent two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, with Kyle Shanahan likely seeing in him somebody with whom he can get creative on offense, in addition to his return abilities.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Wide receiver is a high-priority position that is very likely to be addressed quite early. While Day 2 (the second and third rounds) is their sweet spot, we can’t entirely dismiss the possibility of one taken in the first round if the draft board just so happens to fall that way.
Under Tomlin, the Steelers have most notably drafted in the second and third rounds Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool. They could stand to find an immediate contributor from this class, which is doable.
We certainly cannot dismiss the possibility of the team drafting two wide receivers, in fact, which has not been uncommon for Tomlin, as he has done it a few times before—most successfully in 2010 with Sanders and Antonio Brown, of course.