Coming away from April’s draft, it was hard not to be excited about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second- and fourth-round picks in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. The Steelers find receiver talent better than any team in the league and spent this offseason restocking the shelves after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud to free agency. They’re aiming to replace that trio with a better pair of names. Nearly two weeks into training camp, OC Matt Canada can’t help but be impressed about the progress the two drafted rookie wideouts are making. Canada joined Sirius’ Movin’ The Chains with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan to discuss Pickens and Austin.
“Calvin and George, the two rookies that we were fortunate enough to draft, and both have been exciting,” he told the show. “Both have made really good plays throughout the camp so far. Very different players, but both very dynamic players.”
Pickens and Austin have already made an immediate impact. Working first team all of camp, Pickens has shown good chemistry with Mitch Trubisky while Austin has one of the plays of the summer, a 76-yard touchdown deep down the left sideline from Mason Rudolph. Their impact can be best summed up during Trubisky’s two-minute drive earlier in the week. Pickens and Austin were the only wide receivers to catch the ball and made up nearly all of the team’s yardage as the offense drove down the field. Pickens capped things off with a six-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, beating Ahkello Witherspoon on a dig route. Combined, they caught four passes for 50 yards and that score.
Austin has primarily worked out of the slot while Pickens has played on the outside as an X and Z receiver. Odds are, the team’s 11 personnel package Week 1 will see Pickens as the Z, Diontae Johnson as the X, and Chase Claypool as the big slot/F.
While I’m in the process of tallying stats from the first slate of practices, odds are strong Pickens leads the team in targets, receptions, and yards, just as he did after the first four days. Claypool’s shoulder injury and Johnson’s hold-in have created more chances for both, especially Pickens, to get reps, gain experience, and make plays. Both have done all three. The next step for them is to put them inside a stadium and see if they can translate those dynamic moments to live-game action. Based on early returns, both will.