Having somebody in the same position as you when you’re going through a new transition can be an extraordinary boon, in any walk of life. Professional sports is no different, which is why I’m always a fan of NFL teams drafting multiple players at the same position, pairing two individuals who can commiserate and benefit from one another’s experiences.
The Pittsburgh Steelers doubled up on two positions during the 2022 NFL Draft, with quarterbacks Kenny Pickett in the first round and Chris Oladokun in the seventh, and wide receivers George Pickens in the second and Calvin Austin III in the fourth.
While reporters haven’t yet spent much time asking Pickett about his relationship with his fellow rookie quarterback, the Steelers’ young receivers have certainly gotten to know one another, having had no connection prior to their being drafted by the same team, and have been asked about it by reporters.
“Me and Calvin, we’re real good friends. We’re just talking about regular stuff”, Pickens said of Austin following Friday’s rookie minicamp practice. “He’s really twitchy. I’ve played with guys like that in little league, but not we’re older, so, yeah, he’s got a special twitch to him for sure”.
Pickens and Austin are kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their physical profile, at least with regards to height. Austin is one of the smallest non-specialists in the league, but his specific traits, at least Steelers (and Ravens) scouts believe, position him well to transcend any difficulties that might arise due to his physical profile.
That “special twitch” and his low-4.3 speed will certainly be advantageous to him as he transitions from the college level to the NFL, surely a bigger boon than is his height an obstacle to overcome. Still, he has room to continue to grow into a complete wide receiver, no matter how tall he is, how fast he moves, or how special his twitch is.
Both Pickens and Austin are looking to add to the Steelers’ wide receiver group, which saw a wave of departures via unrestricted free agency earlier this year. Gone are JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud. In addition to the rookies, they have also added veterans Gunner Olszewski (via free agency) and Miles Boykin (via waivers).
They join returning starters Diontae Johnson, who made the Pro Bowl last season, and Chase Claypool, who looked like he would be the one to make the Pro Bowl last season based on what he did during his rookie year in 2020.
The good news is that both rookies can potentially offer a little something that is otherwise lacking in the group, Austin in particular. It wouldn’t be surprising if he somewhat quickly develops into their primary slot option, if it’s a role in which he can excel early, even if he is the least pedigreed of the top four.