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Steelers WR Overview: Calvin Austin Fighting for a Role, Hakeem Butler a Spot

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious weaponry at wide receiver.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' 90-man roster is set, and with it come plenty of position battles. The wide receiver room looks a bit different than it did the last time the team took the field. The starters are mostly set, but there are plenty of intriguing names to discuss when predicting how the team will fill out the rest of the room.

Let's get into it.

Starters: Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson

Diontae Johnson is entering his fifth year with the Steelers, returning once again as the team's primary X receiver. He unceremoniously made history for the wrong reasons last season by failing to register a touchdown in the regular season despite 86 receptions. Statistically, he's coming off of a down season, but the film still shows the same type of player: an elite route runner and high-tier separator who's fallen victim to subpar quarterback play throughout the majority of his professional career. Chemistry with Kenny Pickett should be better in year two, and hopefully, that's enough for him to get back over 1,000 yards for the second time in three seasons.

What a rookie season it was for George Pickens, who was third in the NFL on deep receptions over 20+ yards, according to PFF. He was one of the youngest prospects in his draft class, playing the entirety of his rookie season as a 21-year-old, and his production at a young age shouldn't go unappreciated. His route tree was extremely limited for much of the season, partially due to his role, but there's certainly room for improvement in terms of refinement in that area. He's already a contested catch marvel, but the Steelers have to be extremely curious about what type of potential is left to be unlocked.

The Los Angeles Rams made a splash in free agency last spring to acquire Allen Robinson, only to cast him off after one injury-riddled season. At 30 years old, Robinson's WR1 days are likely over, but that isn't what the Steelers acquired him for, anyways. He's still a nuanced route runner, giving the Pittsburgh offense another option against press coverage and in the red zone. Similar to George Pickens, Robinson's always had a flair for the dramatic, making a name for himself with the ball in the air. He played a chunk of his snaps in the slot last season, and that's likely where he'll spend most of his time in 2023, providing a security blanket for Kenny Pickett, particularly against zone coverage. 

Fighting For a Role: Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin

The Steelers surprised everyone by double dipping at wide receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, and it looked like Calvin Austin was potentially on his way to proving the organization right during training camp. Unfortunately, Austin suffered a foot injury before the preseason and was never able to get back on the field last season. Austin played primarily outside in college but will likely see the lion's share of his snaps in the slot at this level. He's unbelievably fast with joystick-like agility, but he'll need to stay available this summer to secure his spot. Pittsburgh's offense could certainly use the juice to create more splash plays.

Miles Boykin's best trait might be his ability to cover kicks, and in 2022, he showed the ability to do that quite well. He accumulated nine tackles on the kick and punt coverage units while playing sparingly on offense. After catching seven touchdowns in his first two seasons as a pro, Boykin has welcomed a change in role with the Steelers, and his value, while isn't flashy, should be enough to make the roster. At 6-4, 220 pounds, he's another big-bodied target in a Steelers room that is full of similar body types all of a sudden. 

Fighting For a Spot: Gunner Olszewski, Hakeem Butler, Dez Fitzpatrick, Jordan Byrd 

A couple of early fumbles led to Gunner Olszewski losing his returner job last season to Steven Sims. He has been sparingly used on offense throughout his time in the pros and essentially has to win back his returner spot this offseason in order to justify keeping him on the roster with a $2.61 million dollar cap hit.

For one reason or another, things never quite clicked for Hakeem Butler in Arizona. After a highly productive stint in the XFL, Pittsburgh decided to take a swing on the 6-5, 225-pound wideout from Iowa State. Butler moves quite well for a big guy, but he'll have to really stand out in the summer in order to make the roster seeing as he's not likely to provide much special teams value.

The Tennessee Titans spent a fourth-round pick on Dez Fitzpatrick a few years back, but he only appeared in five total games for the team through two seasons. Fitzpatrick was a productive deep threat at the University of Louisville, but that skill set hasn't quite translated just yet to the next level.

Jordan Byrd is a converted running back, turned wide receiver whose main value comes as a returner. The good news is that he comes with plenty of experience, having covered both punt and kick return duties during his collegiate career. Byrd will battle Calvin Austin III and Gunner Olszewski for the right to return kicks this upcoming season.

Fighting For a Practice Squad Spot: Cody White, Dan Chisena, Ja'Marcus Bradley

Cody White does have some experience on special teams, which certainly helps his case. It certainly doesn't hurt that his father is the Director of Pro Scouting, either. White is a fine player to keep around who knows the system.

After originally landing with the Minnesota Vikings, Dan Chisena played a good chunk of snaps on special teams over the first two years of his career, registering eight tackles, per PFF. The issue is that he missed 13 tackles in the process. He'll need to clean those up this summer to have a shot at the practice squad.

Ja'Marcus Bradley was signed to the Steelers practice squad midseason and then given a futures contract a few months later. Since entering the league in 2020, he's only been active for five games, with one of those coming against Pittsburgh when he registered one tackle in the contest. 

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