The Pittsburgh Steelers were near the bottom half of the league in both points per game and yards per game in 2021. By almost all accounts, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada had a less than proficient first season calling plays. But with a revamped offensive line and the addition of more playmakers with a more mobile quarterback under center, there should be little to no excuse for Canada if he’s unable to kickstart a stagnant offense. Two of those playmakers come in the form of second-round pick George Pickens and fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III.
While Austin’s size may prevent him from playing outside, that shouldn’t hold him back from affecting the offense in plenty of other ways. The Memphis product has speed to burn, and it’s going to take some creativity from Canada in order to get the most out of him. Canada talked about his level of excitement in a clip released by the Steelers’ social media team on Thursday.
“Calvin’s the guy that’s obviously electric with the football,” said Canada. “A guy that can really go make some dynamic plays and a guy through the draft process that we were all really excited about. And the fact that he was still available at the time we had the pick was great for us. And I’m excited to get around him here next week at mini camp and watch him do what he can because he had a lot of explosive plays on film.”
It’s not that the Steelers don’t have players who are quick in the open field. It’s just that Austin’s 4.32 speed mixed with his level of elusiveness is rare. He could very well be the curve ball that the Steelers can throw at other teams when they’re least expecting it. He also will be someone that other teams must prepare for week in, week out. One of the primary problems of the Steelers’ offense the last two seasons is its predictability. Nothing would be predictable about deploying Austin in the slot or lining him up in the backfield. The amount of formations are seemingly endless, and that’s why it was so crucial for Kevin Colbert to pounce on a guy like that despite taking another receiver two rounds earlier.
Speaking of the other receiver, Austin won’t have to really worry about playing outside anyways thanks to Pickens’ size and freakish athletic ability. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Pickens gives the Steelers’ offense even more balance. While Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool have each shown their unique attributes, Pickens could come in and be the most complete wide receiver in the room or at least over the next few years, develop into it.
“George Pickens, also explosive, mentioned that earlier at different times,” Canada said. “A guy prior to his injury, probably projected maybe the number one receiver coming out in this class. And we still feel like he is that guy. And I think his explosion, his ability to make plays down the field. We’re really excited about having him join a real talented, wideout room and a real talented offense. But we’re excited about him coming and being part of it.”
The Steelers’ coaches and Colbert have already made it clear that they feel like Pickens is a first-round talent who they snagged in the second round. It wouldn’t really be a shock to anyone if that were the case. Before Pickens’ unfortunate knee injury, he was one of the most dangerous wideouts in the country. His toughness, physicality at the catch point, and his willingness to be a superb blocker are all things that sets him apart. Those are also some of the attributes that Hines Ward possessed coming out of Georgia. The Steelers can only hope Pickens produces like him.