Following an offseason in which the depth chart at wide receiver underwent significant changes for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the new-look group finds itself on the cusp of the top 10 across the league, at least according to Pro Football Focus’s Ben Linsey.
That busy offseason of significant change included the losses of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington in free agency to the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. However, the Steelers spent premium draft capital on the likes of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the 2022 NFL Draft, and also inked Gunner Olszewski in free agency in an effort to replace McCloud’s play on special teams.
Pickens and Austin III will pair nicely with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in 2022 as the Steelers work in new quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett this season. Just how productive the group will be overall with a new quarterback and an opened playbook under second-year Matt Canada remains to be seen, but as Linsey points out, this group is rather intriguing.
“In many respects, the Steelers’ receiving corps is similar to the Broncos’ group. They don’t have a bona fide elite wide receiver, but they do have one you can at least make the case for,” Linsey writes. “That’s Diontae Johnson for Pittsburgh. While he has battled drops and poor quarterback play early in his career, his 1.83 receiving yards per route run over the past two seasons ranks 25th among 96 wide receivers with at least 500 routes. Chase Claypool is in the same vicinity at 1.84 yards per route run since 2020.
The additions of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the 2022 NFL Draft to pair with those two and tight end Pat Freiermuth creates an intriguing young collection of talent for either Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at quarterback.”
There’s a lot to like with this group overall. Johnson doesn’t get the respect he deserves as an elite-level route runner, one that creates ample separation on seemingly every route he runs. Granted, he has the label of a guy that drops the football a lot, but he cleaned that up quite a bit in 2021, dropping just five passes on 169 targets. It’s the point in which the drops occur that causes that label to stick with him — for now. He’s a special talent though, and with improved quarterback play in 2022 could really ascend into stardom.
Claypool has all the makings of a star receiver, especially with his height/weight/speed combination. The issue is his overall consistency, which he struggled with in 2021 from a mental and physical standpoint. Moving around the formation more in 2022 should help him tap into that vast potential that he has, which would do wonders for the Steelers’ offense this season.
As for Pickens and Austin III, there are plenty of reasons to be enamored with the shiny new toys, as Pickens is a big, physical weapon, while Austin III provides the game-breaking speed the wide receiver room has lacked since Mike Wallace all those years ago.
If things trend in the right direction in 2022, this group should be inside PFF’s top 10 next season, which features the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 overall.