New Steelers’ WR coach Frisman Jackson is getting all the shiny new toys in this year’s draft. George Pickens in the second round, and today in the fourth, Memphis WR Calvin Austin III. Austin brings a different body type to the room, a short, fast, stop-start space player in a room of power forwards like Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin.
Though Austin’s lack of size is obvious, Jackson doesn’t believe it’s going to hinder his game. Jackson believes Austin plays much bigger than how he measured in.
“When you’re a 5’8″ guy, can you go up and attack the football when the ball is in the air,” Jackson told reporters via the team’s YouTube channel. “Or do you sit down and wait for it? He goes up and attacks the ball in the air. Those 50/50 balls or combat catches like Coach Tomlin likes to say, he goes and makes those plays. When I say he plays bigger than his size, that’s what I’m referring to. He plays like a guy who is 6’1″, 6’2″ when he jumps up and attacks the football.”
Austin’s 39-inch vertical helps him play bigger than his height would suggest. And his size didn’t stop him from becoming one of college football’s most productive receivers, catching 137 passes for over 2,100 yards and 19 touchdowns the last two seasons. Austin went from track scholarship to football walk-on to college star, and now, a draft pick.
Jackson noted Austin’s ability to play inside or out, but in Pittsburgh, he should primarily be a slot guy and work well in Matt Canada’s quick/RPO game. Austin adds much-needed juice and speed to Pittsburgh’s offense, something they’ve been missing despite re-tooling the unit over the last two offseasons.
“Think he adds a different dimension to our offense with his perimeter ability and his ability in the slot to be able to make some plays for us.”
The NFL’s passing game has become more horizontal in recent years, especially as teams have played more two-high coverage shells, preventing teams from airing it out deep. That game fits better with smaller receivers who may struggle to consistently win vertical, though Austin’s game suggests he can win in a variety of ways. While some will compare him to Dri Archer, another fast but undersized player, Austin’s game is much more refined, and his position and role in the offense will be clearer than Archer’s, who the team never figured out what to do with.