There has been a ton of turnover in the Steelers wide receiver (WR) room from 2021 to 2022. Gone are recent fixtures like Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster (Chiefs), Ray-Ray McCloud (49ers), and James Washington (Cowboys). Until the events in Las Vegas, only two pass-catchers were under contract who had any prior production with the team.
Those two players are 2021 top target Diontae Johnson and 3rd-year pro Chase Claypool, who has yet to really break out in the way the Steelers and their fans probably would have hoped. The remainder of the existing unit consists of roster hopefuls like Ricco Bussey, Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Tyler Vaughns, and Cody White, as well as return specialist Gunner Olszewski and the newly acquired Miles Boykin after being waived by the Ravens.
Then came the NFL Draft, where the Steelers addressed the position early and often, with WR selection in Rounds 2 and 4 in the form of Georgia stud George Pickens and the diminutive, but dynamic, Memphis product Calvin Austin III. No Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (UDFAs) were added, so the Steelers head into the remainder of the offseason with 11 players at the position.
With so much young talent and potential in the room, the Steelers will look to field an explosive, game-changing unit for whoever starts under center in 2022. Like we did with the Quarterbacks in Part One of this series, let’s break down how this position could shake out for the regular season.
Preview Post-Draft Roster Reviews:
Let’s start with the known commodities. Diontae Johnson is suddenly the elder statesman and WR1 of the group with the departure of Smith-Schuster. His route-running prowess and quickness are well-documented, as are his, at times, questionable hands. He returns as the likely top receiving target in this Matt Canada offense.
The team’s real wild card is former 2nd round pick Chase Claypool, who has all the physical tools, but has yet to put it all together in the NFL. If he can figure it out, Claypool has the ability to be a top-tier wideout in the league.
The rookies both have real shots at quality snaps and production in 2022. George Pickens could have the same said about him as Claypool. All the physical tools in the world. Can he put it together? For Pickens, injury history is a concern, but the team seems very confident he is 100% healthy. Look for Pickens to be a major part of this offense early in the year. He has that kind of talent.
Austin III is such a fun prospect to watch and root for. A truly explosive and fast player, he has the ability to take the top off the defense or take it the distance on any given play. How Matt Canada envisions his role in the offense will play a major role in his year-1 success, but the Memphis product brings a lot to be excited about.
Don’t sleep on guys like Anthony Miller and Steven Sims making a run at significant snaps, let alone a roster spot. Miles Boykin brings a decent amount of experience from Baltimore, but likely finds more of a role on special teams. The Steelers did a good job of adding/retaining upside at the position. The group as a whole could be one of the league’s best and deepest, if all goes according to plan.
Depth Chart Prediction
Both Claypool and Pickens have the ability to be this team’s top dog at WR, and by the end of the season, I believe you’ll see one (or both) of them really established as a game-changing weapon on the outside. Claypool often has looked his best playing out of the slot (see vs. Philadelphia in 2020), while I see Pickens as more of a traditional “X” receiver. For now though, Diontae Johnson returns as the team’s most reliable and dangerous WR and could even be better in a fully-installed Matt Canada system that helps receivers find open space. Johnson in open space is a problem for opposing defenses.
Austin’s speed gives the Steelers the downfield threat they haven’t had in a long time, and should keep defenses honest any time he is on the field. Look for Austin to be used a lot in the jet sweeps and pre-snap gadgetry famous to a Canada offense as well. At his best, he has Tyreek Hill-like ability. Even if the Steelers don’t get that out of him in year one, he has a lot of upside as an all-around weapon on offense.
Outside of Gunner Olszewski, who likely takes over both kick and punt return duties, I like Anthony Miller or Miles Boykin as having the best odds to make the 53-man roster as speedy guys with special teams ability to round out the room. Sims makes sense in that thought process too.
WR1: Diontae Johnson
WR2: Chase Claypool
WR3: George Pickens
WR4: Calvin Austin III
WR5: Gunner Olszewski
WR6: Miles Boykin
Practice Squad: Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Cody White
How do you see this room shaking out during the offseason? Who’s going to be the top target by season’s end? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and the poll below.
Which WR will be the Steelers WR1 by the end of 2022?
Calvin Austin III