One major factor will guarantee Calvin Austin III a spot on Steelers' roster

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens / Rob Carr/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in an interesting predicament at the wide receiver position. Even before trading Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers, we knew that receiver was a position the team needed to upgrade ahead of the 2024 season.

Pittsburgh is still looking for a true No. 2 wide receiver to pair with George Pickens. What's interesting is that Omar Khan has added a handful of receivers who all project in the same role on offense.

While the Steelers are starving for receivers outside of Pickens who can win on the boundary, they have no shortage of slot options. After letting Allen Robinson walk in free agency, Pittsburgh signed Van Jefferson and Quez Watkins early in the offseason. Recently, they drafted former Michigan WR Roman Wilson in the third round of the NFL Draft and signed veteran Scotty Miller.

When you consider that Calvin Austin III is already on the roster as a former fourth-round draft choice, this makes the redundancy at slot receiver head-scratching. All of these players do their best work from the slot, but we know that all can't make the team.

Of the aforementioned names, Roman Wilson is the only one guaranteed to make the Steelers roster in 2024. The others could come down to jousting for positioning in the pecking order, and the best training camp performances between Austin, Watkins, Jefferson, and Miller could ultimately win out.

A few of these players will be either back on the street or demoted to the practice squad when Pittsburgh is forced to cut their 90-man summer roster down to just 53 players... but Calvin Austin won't be one of them.

Calvin Austin's punt return ability could make him a Steelers roster lock

Calvin Austin III has one skill that will make him an essential roster lock for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2024: his punt return ability. Though it might seem like this team has many players who can masquerade as punt returners, that isn't the case.

Some fans believe that players like Roman Wilson, Quez Watkins, or maybe even a surprise cornerback like Beanie Bishop will return punts for the Steelers in 2024. While Wilson and Bishop have some kick return experience in college, Wilson never fielded a punt in college, while Bishop had just 2 punt returns in 6 college seasons.

Watkins, meanwhile, has not returned a single punt since 2020 and spent the past four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. The speedster has returned 14 kicks, but the punt return experience simply isn't there.

Enter Calvin Austin III. The former fourth-round pick in 2022 missed his entire rookie season but earned 29 punt returns for Pittsburgh in 2023 -- averaging a very respectable 8.6 yards per return. Going back to his college days, Austin chipped in another 29 punt returns with an average return of 11.1 yards at Memphis.

This gives Austin a notable 58 punt returns from college until now -- far more than any other player on the Steelers roster.

Even if Calvin Austin III struggles during his third training camp or is outplayed by the competition, he may still have a roster spot waiting for him thanks to his punt return ability. Among a crowded group of slot receivers, players need to find a niche role. Austin already found his. Unless the Steelers find another quality punt returner with experience, Austin's chances of making the 53-man roster are very high.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference.