Buy Or Sell: WR Calvin Austin III Will Have Fewer Than 30 Catches In 2023

With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.

This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.

These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

Topic Statement: Calvin Austin III will catch fewer than 30 passes in 2023.

Explanation: The Steelers’ fourth-round draft choice a year ago, Austin missed his rookie season with a foot injury. The team has since acquired veteran Allen Robinson II via trade for an offense that also likes to throw the ball to its tight ends and running backs.


It’s not looking good. Austin is set up, right now, to be the sixth target at best, behind Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Robinson at wide receiver, Pat Freiermuth at tight end, and at least Najee Harris at running back—if not Jaylen Warren, who played a lot of the third-down-back role as a rookie, as well.

Where, pray, are the targets going to come from? Johnson is already a high-volume target player and fans would scream bloody murder if Pickens doesn’t get his in 2023. I would imagine Kenny Pickett is going to want to up his percentage of targets to Freiermuth as well.

We don’t even know if Austin is going to be healthy, or the same player he was before he was hurt—or even any good even if the first two parts are true. He’s never been in an NFL stadium before. We can’t even know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s going to be on the 53-man roster. While he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to prove that he belongs, he likewise hasn’t had the opportunity to prove that he doesn’t.


Let’s start with the obvious: this is not going to become a run-first team. The Steelers drafted a quarterback like Kenny Pickett in the first round last year because they want to win by throwing the ball. There’s no reason to think he shouldn’t comfortably have 550-600 pass attempts. The passing game will be on another level with the year-to-year growth and maturity we can reasonably expect.

And Austin, who appears very much on track to be healthy and ready to go long before the season starts, has a skill set—speed and quickness—that will get him on the field to add an element to the offense that it doesn’t currently have.

The Steelers are not going to have a rigid hierarchy. They’re going to want to be able to rotate receivers and mix and match. Yeah, Johnson and Pickens aren’t going to spend much time on the sideline if they are who they’re supposed to be, but don’t think Robinson is going to keep Austin wallowing on the bench.

What’s more, with Austin in the mix, they’re more likely to break out four-receiver sets, which will win him some targets. In a reasonably good passing offense, 30 receptions isn’t that high a bar to clear. There are plenty of seasons in recent memory in which the Steelers had six or more players with 30-plus receptions. The 2023 season will join that list, with Austin on it.

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