The Pittsburgh Steelers selected a pair of wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft, part of the team’s effort to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud, all three of whom were lost in free agency. For his part, Steelers second-round selection George Pickens (Georgia) has been called an “outstanding value” at No. 52 overall, thanks to his “elite, No. 1, X-receiver potential and some of the best hands in the draft.” But it’s the other wide receiver the Steelers drafted — Memphis’ Calvin Austin III — who is being regarded as a sneaky great pick in the fourth round.
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Calvin Austin’s Game Features ‘Insane’ Stop-Start Ability
In fact, Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus (PFF) has Austin atop his list of the Biggest Day 3 steals in the draft.
“Austin has legit track speed and quickness. His athleticism, top-tier route-running and excellent release package help him overcome his diminutive stature,” begins Treash, making reference to the fact that Austin stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs only 173 pounds.
Yet the Memphis native was highly productive in college, amassing over a thousand receiving yards in each of his last two seasons, authoring 63 receptions for 1,053 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2020 and another 74 catches for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021. And during his senior season, he broke 14 tackles — per PFF — helping him generate an 85.2 receiving grade.
Nor did he wilt against top competition at the Senior Bowl.
Treash notes that “Austin earned the highest receiving grade among qualifying wide receivers at Senior Bowl practice and generated multiple steps of separation on over half of his targets against single coverage, good for the highest rate of such plays among all wide receivers in attendance.”
Building on that assessment, NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms has called Austin “lightning quick, (with) probably the best acceleration in the whole draft.” Simms also highlights Austin’s “insane” stop-start ability and notes that he “has another gear with the ball in his hands,” all of which prompted him to predict that the Memphis product would be drafted late in round 2 or perhaps in round 3.
That said, the Steelers had to be thrilled he was still available in round 4 at No. 138 overall, drafted after several cornerbacks who are said to regard him as their most difficult matchup in college.
Top Rookie Cornerbacks Respect Austin’s Ability
“I talked to ‘Sauce’ Gardner the other day and the guy he brought up as the hardest guard for him was Calvin Austin,” says Simms in the above-referenced video clip.
That dovetails with what Dane Brugler (draft analyst for The Athletic) tweeted in early March, when he pointed out that a handful of American Athletic Conference (AAC) cornerbacks — including Gardner, who was drafted No. 4 overall by the New York Jets — say that Austin was their toughest wide receiver matchup.
The other two cornerbacks mentioned by Brugler are pretty good too: Marcus Jones was selected in the third round by the New England Patriots (No. 85 overall); and Damarion Williams went to Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round (No. 141 overall). That’s unfortunate for Williams; having been drafted by Pittsburgh’s archrival, he may have to contend with Austin twice each season for years to come.
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