Steelers Sign Former Lions Wide Receiver, Waive Rookie Edge Rusher

Javon McKinley Lions

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Javon McKinley #83 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a touchdown with Dedrick Mills during the fourth quarter of a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 21, 2021.

On Monday the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they have signed wide receiver Javon McKinley, 24, who originally entered the NFL with the Lions, catching on with Detroit as an undrafted free agent following the 2021 draft. He spent most of last season on Detroit’s practice squad, but was released by the Lions in May of this year.

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Much like current Steelers wide receivers Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, McKinley is a big-bodied wideout who played his college football at Notre Dame. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, McKinley caught a total of 53 passes for 985 yards and seven touchdowns for the Fighting Irish. Almost all of that production came when he was a fifth-year senior in 2020, when he had 42 receptions for 717 yards (17.1 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.


How Javon McKinley Fits With the Steelers

Coming out of college, analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com projected McKinley to be a seventh-round pick, calling him “an athletically limited downfield threat,” but one with “some potential as a pro prospect,” as “he has outstanding size and the frame to box out defenders and shield the catch.”

McKinley did manage to average 18.6 yards per catch over the course of his Notre Dame career, and his size and strength make him a potentially good fit to contribute on special teams — and as a blocker. Zierlein notes that McKinley “wins with a wicked stiff arm and brute force after the catch.”

Building on that, the Draft Network adds that McKinley was “asked to participate in plenty of blocking at Notre Dame and he was pretty good at it.”

For what it’s worth, McKinley did score a garbage-time touchdown against the Steelers during the preseason last year:

The addition of McKinley to the 90-man roster could be a sign that Chase Claypool — who suffered a shoulder injury during practice this past Friday — could be out for longer than one might have initially expected. Or that the Steelers aren’t expecting fourth-year pro Diontae Johnson to begin taking part in team drills anytime soon.

Johnson is hoping to sign a contract extension with the Steelers and has been engaging in a “hold-in,” not unlike how T.J. Watt approached training camp last summer. Johnson’s absence from team drills has provided rookie wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III more chances to shine and both have taken advantage of their opportunities. Claypool has already predicted that Pickens will be the “best rookie receiver in the NFL,” while Austin has been living up to his status as a potential “day 3 draft steal.”


Steelers Waive OLB Tyree Johnson

To make room for McKinley the team released edge rusher Tyree Johnson, a rookie undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M who was widely viewed as a player to watch during training camp-and a “future sub-package pass rusher.”

Johnson was involved in scuffle that ensued after the last play of practice on Friday, and had to be held back by fellow edge rusher Alex Highsmith, according to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The Steelers still have seven outside linebackers on the 90-man roster.

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