We’ve done a lot of reading about George Pickens and his impressive Training Camp. We’re dying to see what Calvin Austin III can do with his next-level speed in actual game reps. Miles Boykin is on our radar as well, as he attempt to revive his career in Pittsburgh.
But one Steelers wide receiver (WR) is flying under the radar, but is making plays when it counts, putting the Steelers in positions to win games in the waning moments of this preseason. That WR is a 6’2”, 184 pound former USC Trojan by the name of Tyler Vaughns. Vaughns is no stranger to catching the football, with 222 career receptions in college, good for 3rd all-time in school history.
A former teammate of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vaughns was never “the guy” at USC, but his experience and resilience has afforded him an NFL opportunity with the Steelers. So far, the 25-year-old has not disappointed.
Vaughns has displayed smooth route running and natural hands in camp, as well as an innate ability to make would-be tacklers miss after the catch. Remember Kenny Pickett’s game-winning TD pass in the 1st Preseason game vs. the Seahawks? Of course you do. But do you know why it was a game-winning TD pass instead of a game-winning FG attempt? Because Vaughns turned a simple 7-yard out into an impact play after the catch.
Against the Jaguars in Week 2, he again set the Steelers up for the win with two huge receptions where he turned a simple pitch and catch into big gains. Consistently answering the bell when it really counts will get you noticed in a WR competition, and Vaughns is doing just that.
The Steelers have impressive depth at WR this year. Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, and Calvin Austin are all likely locked into roster spots on the final 53-man squad, but after that it’s wide open. The Steelers have only kept 5 receivers each year since 2019, and in 2022 the race for that 5th spot couldn’t be tighter.
The favorites for that spot are likely the aforementioned Boykin along with Gunner Olszewski and Steven Sims. But I believe Vaughns has shown more than these guys in his opportunities. Boykin just hasn’t done much outside of a making couple contested catches, while Sims has been mostly limited to jet sweeps and return-man duties. “Gunner O” has been the best of these three so far, showcasing crisp route-running ability and obvious upside as former All-Pro return man.
That might be Vaughns’ only disadvantage in this competition, as the Steelers 5th receiver has been the team’s return specialist as well in recent years (Ray-Ray McCloud, Ryan Switzer). In every other facet, however, Vaughns has outshined the others, and I believe he could very well be the team’s 5th best pass-catcher. Take it with a grain of salt, but Vaughns also boasts the highest PFF grade of any Steelers offensive player this Preseason so far (91.5).
If Tyler Vaughns has another big showing against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, it could end up being too much for Mike Tomlin and company to ignore, potentially forcing the Steelers to keep 6 WRs this year in order to have room for Vaughns and a guy to return kicks. I am rooting for this young man to make the roster, and if he does, I think the Steelers will be better for it.