When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted wide receiver Calvin Austin III in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the franchise envisioned the Memphis product being a game-changing weapon in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme, providing serious speed and explosiveness.
Instead, Austin never got out of park, getting hurt the day before the preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks and missing the entire 2022 season.
Now, healthy and entering a key offseason, Austin is being looked at — rightly or wrongly — as the answer in the slot in Canada’s third season at the helm of the offense. For Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola though, viewing Austin as the answer and counting on him heavily as the receiver — especially after a year in which he never even took a snap in an NFL game — is difficult.
In his latest Asked and Answered for the team website, Labriola fielded a question from a reader about Austin’s outlook for the 2023 season, especially ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
“I believe it would be difficult to be ‘counting on’ a player who was a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft who then was injured before the first preseason game of his rookie season and never played a snap,” Labriola writes in a response to a reader for Steelers.com. “I also believe that adding a wide receiver in this year’s draft is something the Steelers will consider depending upon the way the picking unfolds on April 27-28-29. What I’m not as sure about is that whether or not the Steelers adding a wide receiver in the draft deserves to be seen as a referendum on Austin.”
The decision to draft/not draft a receiver in two weeks shouldn’t be a referendum on Austin one way or another. The injury was rather unfortunate, and he simply missed far too much time between when the injury occurred and when he had his 21-day window opened to be activated to the 53-man roster.
Though Austin is healthy and has been working out with fellow receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, as well as quarterback Kenny Pickett, counting on him fully to be the No. 3 receiver and answer in the slot moving forward is a dangerous thing to do.
The Steelers could certainly draft a wide receiver early, especially one that is capable of and comfortable with playing in the slot. But that doesn’t mean that the Steelers have soured on Austin. In fact, during the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, GM Omar Khan stated that he’s expecting great things from Austin moving forward.
The decision to draft a receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft would just be the Steelers aiming to strengthen the position. If Austin is able to come back from last season’s injury and get up to speed with the NFL game quickly, it could potentially give the Steelers a four-headed monster at the position overall. That would do wonders for Pickett in the end.