Steelers offensive X-Factor is waiting to be unleashed in 2024

The receiving weapon the Steelers are looking for is already on the roster and chomping at the bit for an opportunity.
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

Steelers fans have been banging the table for the team to trade for a wide receiver all offseason. After restructuring the contract of Alex Highsmith just before the 2024 NFL Draft, it appeared that something was in the works. However, no trade came to fruition.

Fast forward to the summer and fans are still searching for answers. Pittsburgh added WR Roman Wilson in the third round of the draft, and he is certain to carve out a role on offense early in his career. The team also signed a trio of free-agent wide receivers during the offseason with Van Jefferson, Quez Watkins, and Scotty Miller.

While it could take a committee to fill the void across from George Pickens at the WR2 spot, one electrifying player is waiting to be released.

Calvin Austin III could be an X-Factor on Steelers offense

I was ecstatic when the Pittsburgh Steelers landed Calvin Austin III in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Austin was one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and his film at Memphis was astounding. Unfortunately, his circumstances were less than ideal to begin his NFL career.

Austin missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury. When he returned in 2023, his usage was at the mercy of an incompetent offensive coordinator. This resulted in just 17 receptions and 180 yards for Austin in a minimal role.

Now Austin is showing every indicator for a breakout season in Year 3.

Recently, new Steelers wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni spoke very highly of Austin. Here's what he had to say about the young receiver following Pittsburgh's first minicamp practice, per the team's YouTube channel.

"He’s been outstanding. That’s a guy that’s gone from here to here in the last eight weeks. It’s been really fun to watch. He’s a worker, he’s intentful, he’s urgent. He wants to be coached. You can see it. His game has [improved]. I’m really, really excited for his season if he keeps practicing the way he’s been practicing."

Zach Azzanni, Steelers YouTube channel

Azzanni gave a glowing endorsement for Austin and noted that he's 'really, really excited' about what he will offer the team in 2024.

What better time to unleash the most athletic player on the team? At the 2022 NFL Combine, Austin ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and dropped jaws with an 11'6'' broad jump. Though the sample has been very limited early in his career, Austin has flashed on film.

There is a drawback. Austin stands at just 5'7 3/4'' and 170 pounds. This makes him one of the smallest wide receivers in the NFL. The difference is that the team intends to utilize his skillset this time around.

Austin's size doesn't make him an ideal fit as an outside receiver, but he has all of the athletic tools you could ask for and he's made a big impression with the coaching staff. We don't know exactly what his role will look like this season, but Azzanni is clearly impressed by what he has shown during Steelers OTAs and minicamp.

A trade for a wide receiver isn't out of the question, but Calvin Austin III could be an X-Factor waiting in the wings. If the Pittsburgh Steelers can utilize his skill set, he could make a significant impact on offense in 2024.