Don’t Underestimate WR Calvin Austin III Heading Into 2023

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted wide receiver Calvin Austin III in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, they were getting an incredibly quick, shifty wide receiver who Sauce Gardner called one of the toughest matchups of his college career. A foot injury wiped out all of Austin’s rookie season, and heading into Year 2, his role is a little bit unclear. The Steelers traded for Allen Robinson II to play in the slot, while Austin isn’t even assured a returner role heading into 2023 with UDFA Jordan Byrd and fellow wide receiver Gunner Olszewski still in the mix. But I think Austin could have a much bigger role than some are expecting next season.

Players as fast as Austin are a rare breed. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash, and he could end up being a legitimate deep threat for the Steelers. There just isn’t anyone else with his speed on offense, and ideally, Matt Canada’s offense expands its passing concepts, which could allow Austin to show off his speed.

Even if the offense doesn’t expand and is the same basic offense we’ve seen the last two years, Austin is the sort of player who can make things happen. His speed is an asset on the plethora of jet sweeps that Canada likes to call, and he could be dangerous when it comes to screen passes and getting the ball in space. Even if he isn’t starting in the slot, Austin is going to play this year, and if he’s given the opportunity to show off his speed he could be a problem for opposing defenses in 2023.

On special teams, Austin had two punt return touchdowns during his time at Memphis. He’s shown he can be electrifying as a returner, and the Steelers have simply lacked that for a number of years. With Steven Sims leaving to sign with the Houston Texans in free agency, the Steelers don’t currently have a great return option on the roster. Olszewski struggled when given the opportunity to start the year last year, and while Byrd is an intriguing option, he’s not a lock to make the roster as a UDFA. That leaves Austin, who will almost assuredly be on the roster and offers a lot more upside as a return man than Olszewski does.

Austin was getting rave reviews in training camp last year before going down with an injury, and if he’s given a shot, he could be a guy who creates some splash and some explosive plays for this Pittsburgh offense. I’m not saying he’s going to be a 1,000-yard receiver or even close to it, but he’ll be someone that the defense has to account for on the field because if he gets the ball in his hands, good things will likely happen for the Steelers offense.

Austin is definitely one of the players I’m most excited to see next year. While he might not start or be the most exciting name on offense, I have a feeling he’s just going to make plays next year and endear himself to Steelers fans in a big way.

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