Steelers WR Takes Firm Stance on Future in Pittsburgh

Mike Tomlin

Getty Images Mike Tomlin works the sideline.

It’s rare for players buried on a team’s practice squad roster to see game-time action. It’s a challenge to make your way up that depth chart, let alone get elevated to the active roster. But Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Steven Sims managed just that.

The team signed the former Washington Commanders receiver to their practice squad ahead of the 2021 season. He impressed enough to be elevated for Pittsburgh’s November 14 matchup versus the Detroit Lions.

The Steelers re-signed Sims, 25, to a futures contract in 2022, and was active for all but five matchups. Now behind Diontae Johnson and then-rookie George Pickens, his role increased after Chase Claypool was traded. As podcaster Mike Nicastro pointed out, Sims caught 12 balls post-trade, just two fewer than Claypool had in eight weeks.

Like hundreds of NFL players, Sims’ contract with Pittsburgh expires at the start of the league’s new year on March 15 at which time he’ll become a restricted free agent. Though RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, the Steelers own his rights and can tender him.

Sims would like to stay put in Pittsburgh if they want him back, and why wouldn’t they? He can be that slot receiver they’re looking for and saw glimmers of this past season.

“I definitely feel I belong in this offense,” Sims told TribLive’s Chris Adamski after the season ended. “I know I can return the ball. But I also know I can play receiver in this league, so I am just waiting on my opportunity receiver-wise. I got more reps as the season went on and just made a couple plays here and there.”

“I would be happy to be here for the rest of my career, definitely. I love it here, I love the coaches, I love Danny [Smith] so much, but we’re gonna see. I can’t wait.”

Sims plays a vital role on special teams as a returner and broke off a 90-yarder nearly reaching the end zone versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 16.

If re-signed, Sims will battle with Calvin Austin III, Gunner Oszlewski and Anthony Miller for that all-important third spot behind Johnson and Pickens.

High Expectations for Steelers WR Diontae Johnson

The player with the most to prove on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense in the 2023 season is fourth-year receiver Diontae Johnson.

Johnson, then newly inked to a sizeable contract, had a disappointing season. The playmaker was in a tough situation, given the quarterback he built chemistry with over his first three seasons was gone. He was forced to adjust, and it didn’t go over too well.

It wasn’t all on Johnson, though. Mike Tomlin benched Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback he’d worked with all offseason, three games into the 2022 NFL season. A fresh-faced rookie in Kenny Pickett who was lucky to get second-team reps in training camp supplanted Trubisky.

Johnson’s best statistical game came with Trubisky back at the helm in the Week 15 Carolina Panthers game, where Johnson finished with 98 yards on a perfect 10-for-10 target-to-catch ratio.

Pickett’s first four games were a disaster, throwing nine interceptions and only two touchdowns. Aside from Steelers fans who had Ben Roethlisberger blinders on, most didn’t expect Pickett to shine right out of the gate.

“You can’t expect a wide receiver whose entire game is based off timing to be productive in those situations,” Strackbein said.

The 2023 offseason is a different story.

Noah Strackbein of Sports Illustrated’s All Steelers reported on the January 26 Locked on Steelers podcast that Pickett is heading to Florida to throw with Johnson, George Pickens and Calvin Austin.

The two did start to gel as Pickett’s season progressed, but Johnson still never found the endzone — a troubling storyline that’ll follow him until he does score next season.

“Once things started slowing down for Kenny, once they started working together more, you saw that chemistry come. I think that grows next season. Like we know, Diontae Johnson is the most open wide receiver in football, according to some crazy ESPN stat. You gotta believe it because you watch him and he’s always open.

“As long as Kenny can get that timing down, those two will have a great connection.”

Just as critical as Kenny Pickett’s development is the cultivation of chemistry between him and Johnson.

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