The Steelers are now in their offseason after failing to reach the playoffs in 2022, coming up just a game short of sneaking in as the seventh seed. They needed help in week 18 and only got some of it, so instead they sat home and watched the playoffs with the rest of us.
On tap is figuring out how to be on the field in January and February instead of being a spectator. They started out 2-6, digging a hole that proved too deep to dig out of even if they managed to go 7-2 in the second half of the year.
Starting from the end of the regular season and leading all the way up to the beginning of the 2023 season, there are plenty of questions that need answered, starting with who will be the offensive coordinator. Which free agents will be kept? Who might be let go due to their salary? How might they tackle free agency with this new front office? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout this offseason, as we have for many years.
Question: How much will wide receiver Calvin Austin III contribute this season?
While a breakout season seems to be anticipated for one second-year Steelers wide receiver in George Pickens, fans are still waiting for their first glimpse of another. Fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III suffered a foot injury the day before the team’s first preseason game and never participated in a game, spending the entire year on the Reserve/Injured List. While not quite yet 100 percent without restrictions, however, he is out on the practice field working during OTAs.
It lends itself naturally to the question of precisely what his role will be in 2023. The safe assumption is that he will be, at best, the fourth wide receiver behind Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Allen Robinson III, but what would that look like?
It’s important to keep in mind that the Steelers have two running backs they like to throw to in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Pat Freiermuth at tight end is a popular target, and rookie Darnell Washington may command some looks as well.
We don’t even know how extensively they might use three-receiver sets this year, and how much they will rotate their personnel. But smart teams find ways to use good players when they’re best suited to contribute.
Put simply, in order for Austin to get on the field, he will have to show the coaching staff that it would be smart for them to do so. Does he still have the same speed and explosiveness that got him drafted after returning from last year’s foot injury?
Let’s say he does and that he is able to translate that into a deep-threat role. What would that look like under normal circumstances? How many snaps per game might he see, and on how many of them might he be a viable target?