The passing game was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top priority this offseason. To that end, they signed a potential starting quarterback and two starting offensive linemen via free agency, then drafted a quarterback in the first round and two wide receivers, in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.
The second of those two wide receivers would be the slippery Calvin Austin III out of Memphis, whom most believe would have been drafted earlier—perhaps much earlier—if he had a couple more inches on him, standing at just under 5’8” as it is.
Head coach Mike Tomlin talked about how Austin overcomes the limitations that might present itself due to his size, chalking it up to his speed. The rookie timed at 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, and that shows on tape.
He presents an intriguing new target for whoever’s under center, whether that’s free-agent Mitch Trubisky, or rookie first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett, with whom Austin is working now during rookie minicamp—and now for the first time.
“That boy can throw it”, he told reporters about Pickett yesterday following the second day of practices, via Noah Strackbein of AllSteelers. “I already knew he could throw it from the Senior Bowl. Just catching balls from him feels comfortable. It feels great”.
There will be competition for roles both at the quarterback and wide receiver positions this Summer, with Pickett and Trubisky (and Mason Rudolph) battling for the starting job. At wide receiver, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool return as starters, but second-round pick George Pickens along with Austin will be jockeying for roles, as well.
Austin’s clearest path toward a regular role would be to establish himself as the best option in the slot—which is certainly a possibility, given that Johnson, Claypool, and Pickens have all historically been primarily outside players.
Yet the Memphis product played quite a bit on the outside at Memphis as well, and talked about how, over the course of the past two seasons, has been treated as a number one receiver, often seeing double and even triple coverages.
First-round cornerback Ahmad Gardner back in April acknowledged Austin as one of the toughest assignments that he had in college, and that he was anticipating seeing him again. Drafted by the Jets, he’ll have that chance early in the 2022 season—assuming that they both play, of course.
And if Austin is on the field, it’s not guaranteed that Pickett will be, as well. But the first-round pick does figure to have a good chance of winning the starting job over Trubisky. Pickett comes in pretty close to pro-ready, and has familiarity with schemes similar to that which the Steelers are employing.
According to Austin, he already knows how to throw the ball, so that part won’t be the problem. But it will be interesting to hear how he and Pickens compare and contrast the balls thrown from Pickett and Trubisky once they get into OTAs and minicamp.