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“On The Bubble” Series: Wide Receivers

New series here at Steelers Depot as we dive into the roster position-by-position and look at who may be sitting on the “roster bubble” heading into training camp after the conclusion of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.  For the next part of this series, we will be looking at the wide receiver room.

The Names To Know:

Miles Boykin (age 25)

Miles Boykin was once a draft target for the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2019, having him come in for a pre-draft visit prior to the 2019 NFL Draft where he ended up getting selected by the division-rival Baltimore Ravens. Still, Boykin struggled to get going in the league as a physically gifted, yet raw receiver coming out of Notre Dame, catching only 33 passes for 470 yards and seven touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons. Still, Boykin has proven to be a quality blocker at the WR position and special teams contributor in Baltimore while also having an impressive athletic profile (6’3 6/8” 220lb, 4.42 40,  43.5” vert, 11’8″ broad, 4.07 short-shuttle, and 6.77 3-cone) that can serve as a vertical deep threat.

Boykin was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh on April 19 after Baltimore waived him, picking up his $2.54 million salary after qualifying for the NFL’s Proven Performance Escalator. Normally, one would think that Boykin’s spot on the roster would be safe given his athletic profile and Pittsburgh’s previous interest in him, but since his signing, Pittsburgh has drafted WRs George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, the former bringing a similar skill set to the fold. Boykin will have to show that he can better develop the nuances of the WR position in Pittsburgh than he did in Baltimore and prove to be a valuable special teams contributor to secure a roster spot, but the talent, upside, and blocking/kick coverage contributions do help his chances.

Film Room: Miles Boykin, The Steelers New Wide Receiver Project

Gunner Olszewski (age 25)

During the surprise slew of FA signings Pittsburgh made this off-season, WR/KR/PR Gunner Olszewski formerly of the New England Patriots was brought into the fold on a two-year, 4.2-million-dollar deal. While listed as a WR, Olszewski was signed mainly on the basis for contributing as the Steelers projected kick and punt returner in 2022, a role he found himself holding the last three seasons in New England after going undrafted out of Bemidji State in 2019. While experiencing a slightly down season in 2021, Olszewski is one year removed from being a Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro as a return specialist returning 20 punts for 346 yards (17.3 YPR) and a TD along with 18 kick returns for 418 yards (23.2 YPR) in 2020.

While having a couple of clutch receptions on his resumé for the Patriots, Olszewski only has nine career receptions for 127 yards and one TD in three seasons, even less production than that of Boykin. Still, Olszewski’s path to the roster as Pittsburgh’s WR5-6 comes directly on the heels of his ability as a returner and in kick and punt coverage which he did at times with the Patriots. Olszewski could find his roster spot in jeopardy if rookie WR Calvin Austin III proves he can handle the same role as a returner, having 29 career kick returns in college.  Still, should Pittsburgh wish not to put Austin back there as a rookie, Olszewski’s spot on the roster likely is safe.

Gunner Olszewski Just Looking To Play Football ‘Whether It’s At Receiver Or Just Returning Kicks

Anthony Miller (age 27)

Another former pedigree WR that Pittsburgh added to their roster last season also finds himself battling for a roster spot after the additions via free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. The WR would be Anthony Miller, a former second-round pick of the Chicago Bears who inked a futures contract with the Steelers in January after the 2021 season ended. Miller was originally signed to the Steelers’ practice squad on October 12th, but only caught one pass for two yards on the season. Miller found himself getting traded from the Bears to the Houston Texans in the summer of 2021, seeing limited action before eventually getting released in early October.

The Steelers expressed some level of interest in Miller when coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft, sending former QB Coach/OC Randy Fichtner to his Pro Day at Memphis to watch Miller work out. Still, given the fact that Pittsburgh went ahead and signed Boykin and Olszewski this off-season and drafted both Pickens and Austin, the writing could be on the wall that Miller’s time in Pittsburgh may not be long. Should Miller make the roster, he would likely have to beat out Boykin for the fifth WR spot behind the two draft picks, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool is Olszewski is given a sixth spot due to his status as a returner.

Cody White (age 23)

Cody White may be a stretch to include in this article, but given his contributions last season and Pittsburgh affinity with holding onto him throughout training camp last year as he dealt with a hamstring injury, the team felt a need to not let him hit the street. White was able to contribute in 15 games last season for Pittsburgh, catching five passes in a reserve role for 33 yards. White’s most notable contributions came as a special teamer, playing 105 such snaps in 2021 according to Pro Football Reference. It may be difficult to envision.

White beating out either Boykin or miller for a roster spot, especially since Boykin is a proven special teams player during his time with the Ravens, but crazier things have happened and Pittsburgh may elect to save some cash with White’s contract over Boykin’s salary heading into 2022 if both are battling for a roster spot over special teams play. Of the names including White, Rico Bussey, and Tyler Vaughns, White has the best chance of making the roster of the three, albeit not a likely one outside of injury.

What are your thoughts on the names listed “on the bubble” at the WR position? Who do you think is safe and who do you think is in danger of losing their roster spot during training camp and the preseason? How do you see this position group shaking outcome the regular season as it stands today/ Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

 

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