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The Steelers wide receiver depth chart is a smorgasbord of untapped potential

The 2023 Steelers WR depth chart is long on potential, but short on production.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes it's difficult to see the forest because of all the trees blocking your view.

That's what my Pittsburgh Steelers fandom feels like for me from time to time. I faithfully wear my black and gold glasses to shield my eyes from the bright glare illuminating off of all the Steelers shining new toys. Try as I might, I am still left blinded by the light of lofty expectations.

I tend to focus on the potential for success, more so than the likelihood of struggles. In an effort for full disclosure, I must admit I am doing it again this season with the Steelers wide receiver depth chart. That actually makes sense, seeing how I have done that exact same thing for years now at the position.

For almost two decades, I wholeheartedly believed that Ben Roethlisberger could make pedestrian receivers productive, and good receivers great. Outside of a couple of superstars during Ben's tenure, the names and faces at the receivers position consistently changed, but the productivity and winning continued.

It seemed like former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and company could find quality receivers anywhere; early in the draft, late in the draft, or even undrafted guys. But the question remained; was Kevin Colbert some sort of WR whisperer, or was the Hall of Fame caliber talent of their franchise QB elevating the supporting cast. We finally learned the answer in recent seasons; thanks to age, injury, and retirement.

Suddenly quality wideouts aren't quite so easy to find. But it honestly took longer than it should have for me to fully realize the truth.

Take the Chase Claypool situation last season for example. By that point it was painfully obvious that he was never going to be a consistent splash play provider downfield, but I was fully convinced that he would be a reliable mismatch working out of the slot for the Steelers. Never happened. Now I seriously doubt whether he will ever be a NFL caliber receiver, regardless of who his quarterback is.

I am trying not to make the same old mistakes with this year's collection of receiving talent. I am purposely trying to be slightly skeptical to balance my pre-existing positivity. Not entirely sure it's working, but here goes nothing.

The Steelers currently have 13 or 14 receivers on the roster, I honestly lost count awhile back, but for this article we will focus on the 5 or 6 that have a realistic possibility of making the final roster.

Diontae Johnson

Johnson is easily the Steelers most established receiver, precisely what the Steelers pay him handsomely to be. Johnson has exquisite footwork, and often gains almost instant separation. His shortcomings arise after he catches the ball.

This season I want to see Johnson moving earnestly in the right direction after the catch; not backwards, sideways, or quickly out of bounds prior to contact. Hopefully his total targets are down, but his opportunities for YAC yards are up.

George Pickens

Pickens has superstar potential that he will only reach with a similar work ethic. Pickens needed to focus his training on improving his footwork and route running this offseason. Hopefully he has been doing just that.

Pickens ran sloppy and lazy routes far too often as a rookie. He is already one of the best contested catch receivers in the NFL, but he has too much talent to just be a one trick pony. Now he has to show he possesses the determination to be a complete wide receiver at the highest level. The talent and the intensity are there. The desire for greatness is the only remaining question.

Allen Robinson

Robinson is another one of Mike Tomlin's draft crushes from a few years back. Robinson has enjoyed a productive career, but is now slightly past his prime. He was brought in to serve a specific purpose for the Steelers: reliable veteran leadership.

Robinson is a savvy veteran who knows how to get open and exploit soft spots in coverage. He has above average size and catch radius for the slot, something that the Steelers have lacked for years, and the requisite toughness needed to excel in traffic.

Equally as important to his on the field contributions will be his ability to mentor the younger receivers, especially Pickens. Robinson can teach by example the tricks of the trade, from a proven veteran no longer overly focused on his own targets. That is another quality that the Steelers haven't enjoyed at the position in years.

Calvin Austin lll

Austin is like a prized recruit coming off a redshirt season. He tantalized the Steelers fanbase with his exceptional speed and quickness last training camp, prior to the foot injury that cost him the entirety of his rookie season. This is about the point on the Steelers WR depth chart where my black and gold glasses are needed the most.

On the plus side, Austin has elite level speed, quickness, and elusiveness. See New York Jets superstar rookie sensation CB Sauce Gardner for a witness. Austin has the athleticism to be a serious weapon in the NFL.

However, Austin is a ton of potential wrapped in a very small frame, which brings up plenty of logical questions. Is Austin big enough, strong enough, and tough enough to withstand the rigors of the NFL? Only time will tell, but based on his collegiate film at Memphis, I believe he is capable of overcoming any size deficiencies. Be forewarned, that just might be my eternal optimism talking.

Hakeem Butler

Butler is one of my own draft crushes from a few years back, who actually crashed and burned completely out of the NFL after being drafted, despite possessing freakish level size and athleticism. Butler has the wingspan of an elite offensive tackle, 4.48 speed, 36" vertical, and almost 11" hands. That equates to an unbelievable catch radius for a 6'5" 230lbs wide receiver.

However, all of the aforementioned talent is meaningless without the necessary work ethic needed to maximize the potential. Come to think of it, Butler is a cautionary tale for a talented young player like Pickens. Work ethic is the "it factor" for receivers.

After being humbled by NFL reality, Butler worked hard to reinvent himself, starting with a productive season in the XFL. That success earned him his current opportunity with the Steelers. The rest is up to him.

I envision Butler being the quintessential mismatch working out of the slot, especially in the red zone, similar to how I viewed Chase Claypool last offseason. Hopefully Butler proves to be everything that Claypool wasn't.

Miles Boykin

Boykin faces a uphill challenge to make the Steelers roster this season. The Steelers usually keep 6 wide receivers on the 53, but I envision fewer traditional 3 receiver sets in 2023.

The Steelers have a talented stable of tight ends, and the versatile talents of Connor Heyward at H-back. The Steelers have a well documented desire to play ball control, time of possession type offense in 2023. That could lead to the Steelers only keeping 5 wideouts on the active roster.

Boykin was almost invisible as a pass catcher in 2022, but he is another outstanding athlete blessed with extraordinary size and speed. He has plenty of talent for the franchise capable of untapping it.

Boykin utilizes his 6'4" 220lbs frame, and 4.42 speed, to be the best special teams gunner in the league in my opinion. That would seem to give Boykin an advantage in the WR competition, but the Steelers have added another talented gunner option in rookie CB Cory Trice Jr. If Trice makes the roster, which I believe he will, then Boykin could be the odd man out.

There you have it. My way too early observations and predictions on the 2023 Steelers WR depth chart.

Be sure to share your own insights in the discussion thread. If you dare.