2022 Offseason Questions: How Much Playing Time Will Calvin Austin III See As A Rookie?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.

This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.

Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.

These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: How much playing time will Calvin Austin III see as a rookie offensively?

The Steelers return two starters from last season. They also drafted two wide receivers last month, one in the second round and one in the fourth. Presumably, the higher-drafted player is more likely to see the field. But here’s the thing: Calvin Austin III might be the wide receiver who most obviously profiles into the slot.

And as we saw last year, the coaching staff doesn’t take that lightly. Just look at the playing time Ray-Ray McCloud got in the slot last year versus somebody like James Washington after JuJu Smith-Schuster went down, and they didn’t have another obvious slot alternative.

So is there a possibility that Austin essentially works his way into the number three receiver role this year in three-receiver packages? Can he be the primary slot receiver? It wouldn’t be the first time in NFL history that a player drafted lower than another at the same position ended up ahead pretty early.

But George Pickens claims that he can play in the slot, too, and that he did it every day in practice, even though he admitted he’s more comfortable outside. And how comfortable can Diontae Johnson and/or Chase Claypool be in the slot? Could we see Claypool as the top slot receiver, with Pickens playing outside?

There is a variety of options to untangle this riddle, which is a good thing. The coaching staff will have the offseason to figure out who gets on the field, and when, and where, including finding opportunities for the rookies to get into the mix.

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