Steelers WR Calvin Austin III showcases prototype underdog mentality

Calvin Austin III is doing everything he needs to play a big role on offense in 2024.
Calvin Austin III, Steelers
Calvin Austin III, Steelers / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven't been a believer in Calvin Austin III in his first two seasons, perhaps you will be after hearing him speak to the media. Austin, a former fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 was one of the final draft picks Kevin Colbert made before handing the reins to Omar Khan... but he's making sure his presence on the field doesn't go unnoticed.

Early at Steelers OTAs, Russell Wilson mentioned Austin by name multiple times when speaking to the media -- praising Austin for 'leading at the front of the line'. Now it was Austin's turn to show his confidence.

Austin's energy and effort have been top-notch. When speaking with 93.7 The Fan, Austin assures the media that his mentality would not change whether he was guaranteed a starting spot or if they 'brought in everybody'.

Austin insists that his mindset is as if he was a 'walk-on', and that nothing can change that. This is exactly what we want to hear from a receiver who has a chance to carve out a big role in 2024.

Austin has drawn the short straw early in his career. He injured his foot early in his first training camp in 2022 and missed his entire rookie season. One year later, Austin was at the mercy of poor quarterback play and Matt Canada's playbook when he reeled in just 17 of 30 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Now in Year 3, Austin is hoping to see a major boost in production... and we expect it to happen.

Calvin Austin III could play a big role on the Steelers this year

Unlike Pittsburgh's No. 1 wide receiver, George Pickens, Calvin Austin's roster spot isn't completely secure. However, his ability as a punt returner should land him on the 53-man roster this September. From there, it's about trying to carve out a role on offense... and there is a clear path to do just that.

Though the team invested in Roman Wilson in Round 3 of the NFL Draft and signed a trio of free-agent wide receivers, early signs indicate that Austin could get the first crack at things. The fact that Austin is leading the charge in wide receiver drills at Steelers OTAs shows their level of confidence in their speedy offensive weapon.

In fact, it's not a stretch to believe that Austin could open the season as the team's No. 2 wide receiver next to George Pickens. This could depend on how he looks throughout the summer.

The biggest factor here is his size. Austin measured in at the NFL Combine at 5'7 3/4'' and 170 pounds. This makes him one of the smallest receivers in the National Football League, and there are very few examples of players turning out to be starting receivers at this size.

Though his frame is working against him, he has athleticism on his side. Austin ran an official 4.32 40-yard dash at the Combine in 2022 to go with an astonishing 11'3'' broad jump and 4.07 20-yard shuttle.

When you combine this with tremendous work ethic, toughness, and football IQ, you have a player who could overcome size limitations to carve out a significant role on offense. We'll see how things play out this summer.