The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense in 2022 felt like it was missing something. The team looked decent scoring the ball, especially in the back half of the season when rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett took over. However, there was a noticeable lack of big-play capability in the offense. Enter wide receiver Calvin Austin III.
Austin was selected in the fourth round in the draft by the Steelers last year and looked to provide an immediate spark to the offense and special teams. He was one of the fastest players in the draft last season, running a 4.32 40-yard dash at the Combine. That mark put him fifth among all players, and it wasn’t the only impressive mark Austin posted at the Combine. He ranked second in both the vertical jump and the broad jump and also finished top 10 in the 20-yard shuttle. One thing seemed sure: Austin was going to make the Steelers faster and more athletic.
That all fell apart when Austin was forced to miss last season with a foot injury. As he returns to the Steelers in OTAs, he looks to find ways to stand out in a crowded receiver room. Throughout his career, that way to stand out has always been with his speed, and quarterback Kenny Pickett has taken notice.
“It’s been awesome to have him back. He’s going to play a huge role in this offense. His skillset was something that we were lacking last year with his speed.” Pickett shared on a 93.7 The Fan interview on The PM Team with Andrew Filliponi and Chris Mueller. “One of the better guys I’ve been able to meet coming into the Steelers. He’s a great teammate and a guy you want to go to war with.”
Hopefully for Pickett, Austin will be able to open things up with his speed. Pickett ranked 32nd out of 33 qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt last season despite a respectable completion percentage. This shows just how badly he needs someone to be able to create the big play for him as he heads into year two.
Offense isn’t the only place where Austin will look to make an impact this season. He had two punt return touchdowns in college at Memphis and averaged a whopping 11.1 yards per return over his time there. He will likely challenge fellow wideout Gunner Olszewski for the role in 2023. Olszewski was the first team All-Pro punt returner in 2020 with the New England Patriots. However, Olszewski struggled in 2022 and had a costly muffed punt in a loss against his former team.
Pickett has no shortage of weapons this season, but none quite provide the ability to take the top off the defense like Austin. While he said yesterday he isn’t going at 100% yet, he’ll be there soon enough and this is a critical time for the second-year receiver. He’ll look to forge the connection with Pickett that he wasn’t able to last season and make his mark on the 2023 campaign.