We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had a number of notable starters hit free agency this year, and their retention success rate was mixed, re-signing Larry Ogunjobi but losing Cameron Sutton, for example. Largely, however, what they lost they replaced, adding Patrick Peterson in Sutton’s stead.
They also had another active year in outside free agency beyond replacing missing pieces, or voluntary departures, such as Myles Jack. The most notable move was Isaac Seumalo being signed along the offensive line. While Terrell Edmunds is gone, Damontae Kazee was retained and Keanu Neal was added. Likewise, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts come in and replace Devin Bush and Robert Spillane.
The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Jack and William Jackson III, the latter of whom never dressed for them. As of now, they have restructured only one contract to create cap space, that being Minkah Fitzpatrick, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is very possible.
Position: Wide Receiver
Total Positional Figure: 9
Offseason Additions: 0
Offseason Deletions: 2
Diontae Johnson: A Pro Bowler in 2021, Johnson is coming off a down year that saw him set a very dubious NFL record for the most receptions in a season without scoring a touchdown. He should rise back to a mean level this season, but he can’t afford to fall behind.
George Pickens: After a promising rookie season, many expect George Pickens to be the next great Steelers receiver. He showed a tremendous capacity to win in the air, but he must show the ability to create separation, and to retain his composure when things don’t go his way.
Gunner Olszewski: Signed two a modest two-year deal to take over the return role, Oszewski was benched within a few games. Due a couple million in 2023, he is far from guaranteed to make the 53-man roster, though he’ll likely be in camp competing.
Calvin Austin III: Last year’s fourth-round draft pick, Austin suffered a foot injury the day before the first preseason game, so nobody really knows anything about him. While he may emerge as their third receiver, the Steelers can’t count on that.
Anthony Miller: A former second-round pick, Miller has pedigree, but he has done little the past two years. Of course, he spent the 2022 season on the Reserve/Injured List. He made a decent run at a roster spot in training camp prior to that injury, and they re-signed him this offseason to compete again.
Cody White: Son of a front office executive, Cody actually got to Pittsburgh first, and spent time on the 53-man roster in 2021. He was on the practice squad last year; perhaps if the numbers are thin enough he could make it again.
Ja’Marcus Bradley: A former Brown, Bradley was signed to the practice squad in late November and brought back at the end of the year. He has nine career receptions.
Dan Chisena: A Penn St. product, Chisena has a few years in the league under his belt, but has almost exclusively been a special teams player. But he’s tall, so there’s that.
Dez Fitzpatrick: A former fifth-round draft pick, Fitzpatrick has all of five catches to his name since being drafted in 2021 by the Titans. He had college production but that has not translated to success in the NFL as of yet.
Players Added: N/A
Steven Sims: After spending a year kicking around on the practice squad, Sims got his break due to Olszewski’s struggles in the return game. He took over returns and then saw more snaps on offense after the Chase Claypool trade. Evidently, he showed enough to earn a modest one-year contract elsewhere; it’s unclear why the Steelers did not give him a similar deal. They must not have thought all that highly of him.
Miles Boykin: Unlike Sims, Boykin remains unsigned, and is probably among the most likely remaining free agents to be brought back. The Steelers were willing to pay him over $2 million last season and he established himself as a core special teams player, but do they see him potentially having a bigger role on offense? Perhaps not.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
The Steelers have acknowledged that they have to add to the wide receiver position at some point during the offseason, whether through free agency or the draft. At the moment, they only have two players that they can reasonably expect to be able to rely on.
The closest thing they come to it after that is a guy who has never played a snap, which isn’t saying much, especially when you consider there’s a former second-round pick behind him just hoping to have a chance to make the team.
They specifically need a slot receiver, and there are some good options in the draft, but with other needs elsewhere, we might not see them draft at the position until the third or fourth round—possibly with their second of two picks in the second round.