The Pittsburgh Steelers have been widely considered a “sleeper” team entering this upcoming NFL season, and that is partly because of them fixing to introduce multiple additions on offense. One of the said additions is Calvin Austin III.
Austin, a wide receiver out of Memphis, was drafted in 2022 but missed his rookie season following a persistent Lisfranc injury. As a result, the limits of his potential impact—especially in regard to speed, his best quality—have been thrown into question.
But even if he were to have lasting damage that would hold him back at all, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be useful. In fact, such a statement couldn’t be further from the truth. There is another quality that Austin displayed in his time with the Tigers, and that is his versatility.
Upon seeing the combination of Austin’s insane speed (40 time of 4.32s) and smaller stature (5’8”, 162 lbs.), the first things a coach is going to ponder are the variety of ways he could be utilized beyond his standard position. Austin’s coaches at Memphis appear to have exhibited that exact thought process beautifully, as he managed to amass touchdowns by means of receiving, rushing and returning.
As for how such impressive playmaking relates to the Steelers, it strikes a shocking resemblance to that of a former talent, one whom fans loved for every minute he spent in the black and yellow: Antwaan Randle El.
In what ways did the Steelers capitalize on Randle El’s skills?
Despite being a quarterback for the Indiana Hoosiers, Randle El played at wide receiver for all nine of his seasons in the NFL. His career-defining moment was in February 2006, when a trick play had him throw a dagger to Hines Ward for a crucial touchdown in Super Bowl XL. While that description alone screams “versatile,” it’s just the tip of the iceberg when uncovering what all Randle El was capable of.
Once his professional career was all said and done, he not only had several scores under his belt by means of receiving and passing, but also returning (he never had a rushing touchdown, but still finished with over 400 yards in the category)—ring a bell?
But wait, maybe we should hold off on letting this comparison go to our heads; Antwaan Randle El hasn’t played in years, how can we comfortably assume that the Steelers will provide Austin an equally diverse array of opportunities? Well, all we have to do is take a look at some of the younger blood that’s crossed paths with the iconic franchise.
More recent/current Pittsburgh WRs like Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Gunner Olszewski have both yardage and at least one touchdown obtained outside of receiving. The numbers themselves are nothing to bow before, but they nonetheless indicate that a willingness to test the waters of versatility remains.
With that in mind, I see no reason why the Steelers would approach their experimentation with Austin any differently.
Calvin Austin III may not be able to replicate what we saw him do at Memphis, and he may never experience moments like the ones Antwaan Randle El did in the NFL, but there is no doubt that he has some of the most fascinating potential on paper. He should be one of the first names on every Yinzer’s mind during Pittsburgh's 2023-24 campaign.