The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the 2021 season with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud as their five wide receivers on their 53-man roster. Three of them—Smith-Schuster, Washington, and McCloud—all left this offseason as unrestricted free agents.
While they did sign Gunner Olszewski, who is primarily a returner, and claimed former third-round draft pick Miles Boykin off waivers, it was an easy guess that the Steelers were going to address the position during the 2022 NFL Draft.
And they did so significantly. While they didn’t take a wide receiver in the first round—which they haven’t since 2006—they did take yet another in the second round in George Pickens, coming back two rounds later to add Calvin Austin III.
That amounts to a significant increase in talent in that room, particularly Pickens, who likely would have been a first-round pick if he played more last year. Even Austin was largely expected to be a Day 2 player, and if he had another inch or two, almost undoubtedly would have. Many have noticed, including Pro Football Focus, who deemed the Steelers’ wide receiver room one of the most improved units coming out of the draft:
Wide receiver had quietly become a need in Pittsburgh with JuJu Smith-Schuster heading to the Kansas City Chiefs and Diontae Johnson scheduled to hit free agency in 2023. As they’ve done consistently over the past decade, the Steelers reloaded at the position on Days 2 and 3 of the draft.
Georgia’s George Pickens could have very well been a top-15 selection had he not torn his ACL prior to last season. He was one of the most talented wide receivers in this class and a potential starting “X” receiver who got pushed down boards due to injury and maturity concerns.
Pickens’ ability to win at the catch point and haul in any catchable ball thrown his way will be a welcome addition to an offense that has dropped more passes than any other team in the NFL (75) over the past two years.
Memphis’ Calvin Austin III is a very different receiver than Pickens stylistically. He’s 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds with 30-inch arms, so the Steelers need to use him creatively. But it’s not difficult to see him having an impact in Pittsburgh as a sudden, crafty route-runner and dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands. A 4.32-second 40-yard dash and 11-foot-3 broad jump is the kind of juice that a player of Austin’s size needs to stick in the NFL. He can create problems on jet motion, too, which is a massive part of Matt Canada’s offense.
With Pickens and Austin being added to a group already including Johnson and Claypool, this has the makings of a very talented room. Of course, that has to be put together on the field, first, and they need a quarterback who will be able to take advantage of their services.
For now, we don’t know who will be throwing them the ball when it counts. Mason Rudolph is the only quarterback remaining from last season’s roster. They signed Mitch Trubisky in free agency, but then drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round. Presumably, it’s Pickett’s job to win, rather than to lose.