The Pittsburgh Steelers have several strong positional groups, but none has a more promising outlook than the wide receiver position.
There are some positions on the Steelers roster that certainly have me concerned ahead of the 2022 season. Pittsburgh’s offensive line was one of the worst units in the league in 2021, and they aren’t guaranteed to be much better — even with some mid-level offseason additions. Likewise, their current quarterback situation isn’t exactly ideal when you consider the QB talent they are stacked up against in the AFC North.
However, wide receiver is one position that we shouldn’t be worried about. In fact, we should be flat-out excited for what the future holds.
The Steeler are a team that have been known for drafting and developing wide receivers as well as anyone over the past two decades. This team went from the ‘Young Money Crew’ of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanual Sanders to a studded cast of AB, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
After a brief drought when players like Sammie Coates and James Washington didn’t work out as planned, Pittsburgh’s receivers once again appear to be loaded with talent. After much speculation, the team recently extended the contract of Diontae Johnson. He has been the Steelers most productive receiver over the past two seasons.
While Chase Claypool had a bit of a down season in 2021 after a stellar rookie campaign, he could bounce back in year three as he looks to develop chemistry with his new quarterbacks. These two alone, however, aren’t what makes this group so excited. Rather, it’s the upside we could be looking at from this unit a few years down the road.
Steelers wide receiver corps has immense upside
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool already make up a respectable young pair of receivers after what they showcased over the past few years. However, when you add George Pickens and Calvin Austin to the mix, this group has a chance to be scary-good in the future.
Now that Steelers training camp is over, we can officially say that Pickens was the star of the show. He looked so promising, in fact, that NFL media circles are talking about him as being potentially the best receiver of the draft class already. That might be a bit premature, considering a whopping 10 receivers we selected ahead of him in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, nobody is arguing about the upside.
Pickens has routinely humiliated Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks during practice this summer with his ability to contort his body and come up with one acrobatic catch after another. He continued to impress in the preseason. But Pickens is not the only one who has turned heads.
Calvin Austin hasn’t been on the same level as Pickens this summer (no Steelers receiver has), but he’s been impressive in his own right when healthy. Austin has showcased his blazing speed and ability to get in and out of breaks. Once he sees some open field, he has the chance to go the distance. Now he just needs to get healthy so he can make this translate to the field.
What makes the outlook of this unit so intriguing is the age and upside of their top four receivers. Between Johnson, Claypool, Pickens, and Austin, this core group has an average age of just 23.5 years old. This is likely to make them the youngest WR corps in the NFL when depth charts are finalized before the start of the season.
What has me really excited is the upside that accompanies this youth. Johnson and Claypool are developing receivers who probably haven’t played their best football yet, Austin could prove to be more than just a lightning-fast gadget in the passing game.
Pickens, however, clearly has the most upside of the group. He’s a former five-star recruit with outstanding ball skills to go with excellent size, length, and athletic traits. The sky is the limit for him.
I really like the depth on Pittsburgh’s interior defensive line. Likewise, T.J. Watt himself instantly makes the Steelers edge defenders lethal. However, no positional group has a brighter future outlook right now than this young core of wide receivers.