When you take the time to consider just how the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver room has changed throughout the course of an offseason, it is pretty incredible. In 2021, their wide receiver depth chart looked something like this:
Ju Ju Smith-Schuster
Now, fast forward to the Steelers’ current wide receiver depth chart after the 2022 NFL Draft, and it has changed dramatically. Here is what a rough depth chart would look like prior to minicamps:
George Pickens (R)
Calvin Austin III (R)
Anthony Miller/Cody White/Rico Bussey
While the two rookies are far from proven commodities, it is easy to say how the team’s pass catchers give the team a versatility they didn’t have last season under Matt Canada. When it comes to versatility, the more you can do will help you see the field more. In this case, it starts with the biggest question on fans’ minds…
Who will play in the slot in 2022?
Could it be George Pickens who mans the slot?
“We see him as kind of both.” Matt Canada said after the second round pick and his ability to play both outside and the slot. “He’s so explosive, I mean you look at what he did in his career down there, he did a lot. They used him in multiple places with the talent they had, and we certainly have a couple of guys who we feel really good about at wideout. So, we’ll see where he fits and where the best place to put him is, but I think he can do both.”
Is Calvin Austin the answer in the slot?
“He can play both.” Wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson said after the 4th Round selection. “Right now, we don’t know exactly where we will put him, but with his ability to play both inside and outside, he gives us some flexibility in that regard.”
What about someone like Chase Claypool, any chance he is their next slot receiver?
“I believe I [Claypool] does [have the ability to play the slot].” Canada said. “I think we can do a lot of different things with Chase, and I’m excited about exploring that, when we get into that here through the summer and the next fall.”
A lot of possibilities, but not one who is the clear cut slot receiver most offensive coordinators covet this time of year. But back to those rookie receivers and what they bring to the room. When it comes to the Steelers’ second round pick, it was clear what separated Pickens from the rest of the receivers in the draft.
“His body of work prior to his injury is one thing we were impressed with.” said Canada. “We did a lot of study on his 2020 season and even prior to that. I do think his pro day of him showed how explosive he was, and we were there to watch it. Coach Jackson and Coach Tomlin were there, and I think that put him in a place where we felt really good about having a chance to get him at this point in the draft.”
Outside of his individual skill set, how can someone like Pickens come in and help the wide receiver room?
“I think Diontae and Chase have spoken for themselves. Chase had a great year, maybe not what he wanted last year but he was really close. ‘Tae came back and had a really good year. Canada added. “I think when you have two guys like that, one more explosive receiver doesn’t allow anybody to double team. They have to pick who they want to double. Obviously, we feel good about Pat [Freiermuth] so I think it allows us to have great versatility in our offense and allow people to decide who they want to double, because you can’t double them all. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to work, I’m not going to get into that yet, but I do think it’s a really good asset for us.”
Pickens is a big target, and the opposite could be said about Calivn Austin III. But what Austin brings to the receiver room is something entirely different. Not just speed, but a competitiveness which made him an attractive selection for the Steelers.
“He’s probably one of the fastest guys in the room, but he’s a smaller guy.” Jackson said after the 4th round pick. “All the rest of the guys are pretty big except for Diontae [Johnson] but he brings the speed element, and he brings toughness. Not saying that the guys weren’t tough last year, but he brings some toughness along with his competitiveness from him, and I believe he’s going to make the room fun. He’s going to bring some juice and stuff to the room.”
When you add all this up, the youth combined with experience and the position flexibility it makes the Steelers offense extremely versatile. Versatility is something the offense didn’t have much of in 2021, and the hope is 2022 will be the year Canada’s offense can be properly implemented and blossom with his players now in place.
The receivers now in the fold will be a huge part of that process.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for rookie minicamp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp.