2023 Offseason Positional Review – Wide Receiver

It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents shortly, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.

Position: Wide Receiver

Total Positional Figure: 11

Additions: 2

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Under Contract:

Diontae Johnson: 147 targets and zero touchdowns is not a season any wide receiver ever wants to have. Fortunately for posterity, Diontae Johnson, to date, is the only one who has. His lack of touchdowns will define his 2022 season, but it does overshadow a lot of good work that he does put in. His route-running expertise is largely acknowledged even by his detractors, but it doesn’t even need putting into words that 2023 has to be much more productive.

George Pickens: Many already view Pickens as the Steelers’ number one receiver, though I believe that still has yet to be proven. He is the most dynamic playmaker on the roster, a physical freak who had odds-defying success on jump balls as a rookie. He has to prove that wasn’t a fluke while also greatly expanding the nuances of his game if he truly wants to be a number one in the conventional sense.

Gunner Olszewski: Signed to be the Steelers’ new return man, he lost the job within weeks. Due $2 million in 2023, it’s very likely they carry him into training camp and let him fight for a roster spot, but he’s not guaranteed anything and should be considered at significant risk of losing his job.

Calvin Austin III: A fourth-round pick in 2022, Austin spent his rookie season on the Reserve/Injured List after suffering a foot injury the day before the preseason opener. He aggravated the injury and then some, apparently, when he attempted to return to practice in-season, resulting in surgery from which he continues to recover.

Anthony Miller: A veteran former second-round pick, Miller was looking to make a push for a roster spot last year when an injury landed him on the Reserve/Injured List. The Steelers have already signed him to a one-year deal to give him another stab at returning to relevance in the NFL.

Cody White: I’m not sure how the chicken and egg work when the son got here before the father (Sheldon White, hired into the front office last summer), but Cody is still here, still on the practice squad. It’s unlikely he sees a helmet again barring injuries.

Ja’Marcus Bradley: A still-youngish journeyman former undrafted wide receiver, Bradley first joined the Steelers’ practice squad in late November and was signed to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season. He has nine career receptions for 124 yards, all with the Browns in 2020-21.

Pending Free Agents:

Miles Boykin: Boykin established himself as a special teams staple, particularly on coverage units, and particularly on punt coverage as a gunner. That should be enough to get him re-signed as long as he doesn’t get offered more elsewhere. His physical presence is also welcome offensively as a blocker. Any further opportunities would have to be earned.

Steven Sims: Probably the 53rd-man on the opening-day roster last year, Sims ended up getting the return man job after Olszewski rather literally fumbled it away. That was his primary role (in which he had his own issues, including ball security), but he played a larger role as a slot receiver in the second half of the season after Chase Claypool was traded. He is a restricted free agent, and I think it’s as likely as not that he is not tendered, but re-signed for at or near the veteran minimum.


Dez Fitzpatrick: A 2021 fifth-round pick by Tennessee, Fitzpatrick was signed by the Steelers to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season. A productive college wide receiver, he has five career receptions to his name. He logged one game with zero catches for Tennessee in 2022.

Dan Chisena: Also signed as a Reserve/Future player at the end of the season, Chisena has 11 offensive snaps to his name over three seasons. But he has nearly 500 special teams snaps. The former Penn St. product fits the mold of many of Pittsburgh’s preferred futures wide receivers: tall. He’s 6’3”. Not quite Derek Moye, another former Penn St. wide receiver at 6’5”, who actually did catch a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in 2013.

Deletions: N/A

Offseason Strategy:

I’m not including Chase Claypool in the deletions pool because I’m going off of the roster at the end of the season. The Steelers will likely want to re-sign both of their pending free agents, but at a budget price, and will perhaps be open to moving on from anything beyond that.

While they are optimistic about Austin’s future, it’s possible that they consider adding another veteran slot receiver to the mix to compete with Austin, Sims, and Miller. Beyond that, it’s hard to see them doing much before the draft.

It’s unlikely that wide receiver will be strongly considered based on relative need with their top draft pick at 17, but I think it opens for legitimate consideration at 32 and beyond. I wouldn’t expect more than one to be drafted due to the number of holes, but yet another day two wide receiver, with three picks in the first and second rounds, is quite possible. Especially if they don’t add anybody noteworthy in free agency.

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