Some Steelers wide receivers turned heads in Pittsburgh’s first preseason game. Here’s a breakdown of each WR performance against the Seahawks.
Sure, it may have been a preseason game, but the Steelers managed to score 32 points — which says a lot considering the Steelers failed to score any points in the first half of several games in 2021. The Steelers wide receivers led the way scoring three of the four touchdowns, with running back Jaylen Warren catching the fourth.
Discounting the performance of running backs and tight ends, Steelers wide receivers attributed to 171 of the Steelers 251 receiving yards. It wasn’t just one receiver; Pittsburgh had production from eight wide receivers. Three of them had a big night, with a few others that helped out quite a bit.
In addition to catching the ball, at least one wide receiver made a huge splash in the rushing game and on special teams, also highlighting the changes Matt Canada planned for the Steelers in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era.
While the Steelers wide receivers put on a spectacle, we did not see the rookie who has made a name for himself in training camp, Calvin Austin, as he was out with a foot injury; nor did we see veteran Anthony Miller. The latter was out with a shoulder injury.
It is still a matter of speculation as to how long it will be until we see them involved in the passing game; thus, here are the Steelers wide receivers who had some involvement in the passing game during Pittsburgh’s preseason win over the Seahawks.
Christian Blake was unimpressive
Christian Blake, a four-year NFL veteran, having played three years with the Falcons, made his Steelers debut. He had arguably the worst performance of all the Steelers involved in the passing game Saturday night. Blake had one reception and three targets and only managed seven yards on his lone reception so it’s hard to say if he did much to show he belongs on the final roster when the season starts. However, he will have two more chances against Jacksonville and Detroit.
Cody White didn’t do enough to make a case for a roster spot
Cody White is entering his second season as a wide receiver. In 2021 he had five receptions for 33 yards. So if anyone needed to have an impressive performance, he would be one of them. Considering we did not see him until late in the game, it’s hard to say where he is at, and fans should consider him a bubble player as if he makes the team, it will be by a slim margin.
Nevertheless, when the Steelers called upon him Saturday, he went 3-3 for 13 yards while catching one pass for 10 yards. Considering he went 3-3 and one of his catches was a first down-length catch, which helps, but it probably wasn’t enough to make a strong case for a roster spot.
Tyler Snead is outside of the roster bubble
Tyler Snead is one of the rookies battling for a spot on the roster. The Steelers signed him as a rookie free agent from East Carolina. He did go 2-2 for 10 yards and showed some extra versatility in the rushing game despite only rushing for 2 yards. He might have done enough to get the coaches to look at him closer, but it wasn’t the performance he was hoping for. We will have to see what he does in the next two games, but he looks to be outside of the roster bubble at the moment.
Miles Boykin makes a case for Steelers final roster
The Steelers signed Boykin in the offseason after the Ravens cut him. It appeared even before training camp started that he should make the final roster. It’s still too early to say whether he is a shoo-in for the final roster he had a solid performance against the Seahawks, although nothing memorable.
Boykin finished the game catching two balls out of three attempts for 17 yards averaging 8.5 yards a reception. While he did not do much to distinguish himself, he helped the team, which is paramount, and his performance in the last two preseason games should determine if he is on the roster against Cincinnati.
Tyler Vaughns made a statement late in the game
If anyone played their heart out to make an argument, the Steelers should keep him for the regular season. Vaughns did just that. Not only did he go 2-2, but he also had the third most receiving yardage, 32, while gaining 24 yards on one play with under a minute left. As Kenny Pickett was trying to maneuver the Steelers offense into field goal range, he hit Vaughns, who managed to find some open field rambling 23 yards for the touchdown, taking pressure off of the placekicker to win the game.
Beyond that, he also ripped off a 27-yard kickoff return. Not bad for a player who did not see much time until the fourth quarter. As a player on the practice squad of the Colts and Steelers in 2021, he made a statement that he belongs on the final roster.
Steven Sims looked explosive
Steven Sims is a three-year NFL veteran, two years with Washington, and part of the 2021 season with the Steelers, in which he was active for only one game. Nevertheless, he had an interesting performance against the Seahawks.
As for receiving yardage, he did not look overly impressive; he only went 1-2 with two receiving yards. Indeed, that will not get you a roster spot. However, he reeled off a 38-yard punt return for the special teams department, which always excites fans. But that’s not all; he also had the second longest rush of the night for 38 yards. He certainly showcased that he has some talent. If he does not make the team on his receiving skills alone, they may keep him as a special teams player.
George Pickens grabbed the attention of Steelers fans
Pickens was the Steelers 2nd round draft choice this year. Many mock drafts projected Pickens to be a first-round draft choice, yet he fell into the 2nd round as many teams passed on him due to an ACL injury. Teams always have to be wary of ACL injuries. Some players never recover; others do recover and play a full career with almost no ligaments in their knee, like John Elway.
If Pickens has any lingering knee issues, they were not obvious last night. On top of that, he made challenging plays look simple (like the corner catch in the endzone).
Pickens made plays you would expect from a seasoned vet, not a rookie in a preseason game. He also showed that he has a Hines Ward style of blocking. With 8:30 left in the first quarter, the Steelers ran to the opposite side of Pickens. To keep the defensive back from pursuing, took two steps, arms extended, and leveled the defensive back just using his arm strength.
Somewhere out in the world, Ward must have been smiling. It’s hard to say how things pan out for Pickens, but based on what we saw Saturday, he could have a very high ceiling.
It’s not so much that Gunner Olszewski had a much better performance against the Seahawks than George Pickens. It’s that Pickens had looked impressive in training camp, and everyone had a feeling he might look good in his debut. So that seemed a bit predictable. When he came to Pittsburgh, no one expected Olszewski to be overly productive in the passing game and that the Steelers would only use him on special teams. It’s hard to fathom anyone would have predicted Olszewski snagging three receptions for 47 yards and the first touchdown of the night, averaging 15.7 yards a reception.
No one thought that would happen, which may have been unexpected, but that’s what exactly happened. Considering the Steelers did not use him as a kickoff or punt returner, what does that tell us? It says that the Steelers coaches saw some potential in Gunner beyond that of a kick returner, something Bill Belichek did not see.
The Steelers may still use him in that role, but it also seems they have others that can fill that role too. Thus they think he may have more value in the type of offense Matt Canada wants to run.
The bottom line takeaway from the Steelers game with the Seahawks is that the Steelers receivers made a big splash showing that even beyond the talent of Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, the Steelers will have some big play potential. Considering the Steelers quarterback situation, we do not know who comes out on top, but having explosive receivers always helps. Depending on which receivers make the final cut, we saw enough good things to make it appear the Steelers could have a robust passing attack in 2022.