Many would agree that George Pickens out of Georgia with 2.52 was an excellent pick at a position of need. The Steelers had Pickens graded as at least being in contention for the top receiver on the board if not the absolute best guy in the draft coming out of the 2020 season, but an ACL injury in the 2021 season that limited him to four games and five catches caused him to slide down draft boards right into the Steeler's lap. Pickens profiles as a guy with a lot of upside who, while versatile in college, possesses a skill set much more appropriately used on the outside than in the slot, so it seemed as though the Steelers would consider moving either Chase Claypool or Diontae Johnson into the slot to allow Pickens to stretch the field as he's so well known for doing. That was until the Steeler's front office threw a curveball into the room by selecting WR Calvin Austin III out of Mepmhis with 4.138. Austin III is an interesting prospect because despite being a fourth round pick he is scouted as having NFL caliber talent at the position with short area quickness, blazing speed down the stretch, and soft hands that routinely secure the ball. Really, the only problem with him that landed him on day three is his size, as he's officially listed at 5'10", which means that more than likely Austin III will be playing in the slot in Pittsburgh. So then that raises the question:
If we have our slot guy, who's in the doghouse for the outside spots?
Obviously there are three possibilities; either Johnson is out, Claypool is out, or Pickens is out. Starting with Pickens, in my opinion the only way that he isn't playing on the outside this season is if his ACL tear lingers longer than we thought it would, but since he's already seen playing time in college since the injury I doubt that that will be the case. When you factor the injury out of the equation you're left with a guy who had a top ten if not top five grade on him coming out of his last healthy season with some of the most elite hands at the position on the team if not in the whole draft, and I just can't imagine a scenario where the Steelers don't play a guy with that kind of talent barring injury concerns, so he's out there on the field in my mind.
I see Claypool as being a possible contender for the rotational job this season due to his disappointing performance last season. It seemed like he struggled at every phase of the game. He couldn't beat his man at the snap, couldn't get any seperation, couldn't win his 50/50 balls, and struggled off the field with his maturity. That's not to say that Claypool didn't do anything good last year, but when you factor in all the question marks attached to his game coming out of his sophomore performance I just don't see him holding onto the job against a guy like Pickens unless he shows up to camp and balls out like he did his rookie season.
The only other scenario I see Claypool earning consistent time is if Johnson is the unlucky contestant in our little game of musical chairs. Johnson's situation is interesting because he wouldn't lose the job based on performance per say, but he WOULD be losing it because of his performance in relation to what he's asking for in his contract negotiations. Consider this scenario: you're part of the way through the season starting Johnson and Pickens as your outside guys and while Johnson has been putting up good numbers as he's done throughout his career, Pickens is out there dominating the competition (I'm not predicting that he will, but just hear me out). Now you're left with a guy asking for WR1 money who isn't producing like a WR1, a WR2 who is producing like a WR1 and has three more years after this on his contract, and a guy sitting on the bench at WR3 who, despite all the concerns I mentioned before, you are comfortable with as a solid WR2 in this league. If you were the GM in this situation, what would you do? I don't know about you, but I would be shopping around to trade Johnson before the deadline hits in the hopes that I can maybe get a first round pick for his talents. If not, I'm at least comfortable letting him walk knowing that I have two solid outside guys behind him.
Again, I'm not predicting anything here because as we've seen time and time again, in this league anything can happen. Johnson could show up week one and start being the true number one the Steelers have always hoped he could be. Pickens could show up and turn out to be all smoke no fire, leaving the starting WR2 job with Claypool. Johnson, Claypool, and Pickens could all turn out to be busts and give way for a world stopping wide receiver core led by Cody White and Rico Bussey. Okay, that last one is a little less likely, but you get the idea. All I'm saying is that drafting both Pickens and Austin III was an excellent move on the part of the Steeler's brass because it gives us options at a position that started this offseason with not a lot of options and a heck of a lot of need. All I know for sure is that I'm looking forward to seeing this wide receiver room shape up and help their new quarterback succeed, whoever that new quarterback may be (but that's a discussion for another time.) In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you think might happen with the Steelers at wide receiver this season and what you would like to see the Steelers do at the position.