The Pittsburgh Steelers are likely going to address the slot receiver position at some point this offseason. The team struggled to get production out of the position from the combination of Chase Claypool, Steven Sims, and Gunner Olszewski, but one factor that could influence the caliber of player they go after is the return of Calvin Austin III. Austin was a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2022 out of the University of Memphis, but he suffered a foot injury in training camp and then re-aggravated the injury during the season, causing him to miss all of what would have been his rookie season in 2022.
Tight end Connor Heyward, who joined Austin as a rookie in Pittsburgh, believes that Austin is more than capable of holding down the slot next year. On Jersey Jerry and Kevin Adams’ Steel Here podcast, Heyward talked about Austin’s return and what he saw out of Austin when he was healthy.
“Calvin Austin’s coming back as well, which is gonna be crazy. I think a lot of people have forgotten, but during camp you just saw a lot of flashes.”
Austin has game-changing speed, as he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine next year. He could open up Pittsburgh’s vertical passing offense, which was lacking for most of the 2022 season. Taking more shots downfield and showing he can make those throws is the next step in quarterback Kenny Pickett’s improvement, and having Austin back could be huge in expanding the Steelers’ offense next season. Even though Austin is back though, he’s still a largely unknown commodity because he never played in even a preseason game. While he looked good in training camp, that doesn’t always translate into games, so the Steelers will still likely add a slot receiver this offseason.
The question just becomes how they go about acquiring one. There aren’t a ton of guys in free agency who fit what Pittsburgh’s looking for while also being affordable, but a possible name to watch could be Zac Pascal, who’s coming off a 15-catch season with the Philadelphia Eagles, although he did have two grabs in the Super Bowl and had at least 38 receptions from 2019-2021. While they’ve been linked to Pickett’s former college teammate Jordan Addison in the draft, I don’t see the Steelers taking a WR in the first when they have more pressing needs along the defensive line, at cornerback, and on the offensive line. It can’t be ruled out, but it would definitely surprise me if Addison landed in Pittsburgh with the 17th pick. If he falls to No. 32, then I think it becomes more likely, but it really will depend on if the front office views Austin as someone who can start in the slot next year.
While he’s still pretty much an unknown, it’s clear Austin’s work in camp was impressive. Reports out of Latrobe last summer were certainly encouraging and having his teammate in Heyward come out and say he showed flashes is a really positive sign that Austin could potentially be a contributor next year. We’ll know how much Omar Khan and Andy Weidl agree with that by the caliber of receiver they bring in this offseason.