Steelers position-by-position: Wide receivers

Here is the next in a position-by-position series on the Steelers at the conclusion of the 2022 season as they head into the start of the NFL free agent period, which opens March 15.


Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Steven Sims, Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin, Calvin Austin, Anthony Miller

(free agent scorecard: 1 unrestricted, Miles Boykin; 1 restricted, Steven Sims)


After catching a career-high 106 passes in 2021, becoming just the fourth Steelers player to top 100 receptions in a season, Diontae Johnson saw his numbers fall to 86 receptions. That's still very good.

His average per catch was down slightly, as well, from 10.9 to 10.3 yards per catch, but he also saw 22 fewer targets than he did in 2021, despite playing in one more game.

One thing Johnson did not do is score a touchdown, setting a new league record for most receptions in a season without scoring. But that most certainly is not all on him, as the Steelers wide receivers as a group scored just five touchdowns on receptions.

That number should improve as quarterback Kenny Pickett adjusts to NFL play.

Rookie George Pickens was the star of training camp and that carried over into the regular season, despite the Steelers not throwing the ball nearly as much in 2022 as they had the previous season.

Pickens finished his rookie season with several highlight catches and 52 receptions for 801 yards and a team-best four touchdowns. Pickens' 15.4 yards per reception was ninth-best in the NFL among qualifying receivers.

His emergence allowed for the midseason trade of Chase Claypool to the Bears for a second-round draft pick.

Once Claypool was gone, the Steelers relied more heavily on a rotation of Steven Sims, Gunner Olszewski and Miles Boykin to be their third receiver. They also ran the ball more often, with Olszewski and Boykin chipping in as very solid blockers.

Sims led that trio with 14 receptions for 104 yards and also took over for Olszewski as the team's punt and kickoff return man after some ball security issues plagued the former All-Pro return man with the Patriots before joining the Steelers last season as a free agent.

Olszewski had five receptions for 53 yards, while Boykin had two catches for 11 yards.

As a group, the Steelers' wide receivers caught just five touchdown passes, with Pickens tallying four of those and Claypool hauling in the other.

Austin, a fourth-round draft pick, and Miller, a former second-round pick of the Bears, both had their moments in training camp before suffering what turned out to be season-ending injuries.

But the Steelers re-signed Miller to a one-year contract soon after their season ended.


Pickens' 84 targets were the fewest by any NFL player with 800 or more receiving yards this season. The next-closest player who had at least 800 receiving yards was Buffalo's Gabe Davis with 93 targets.


With Johnson and Pickens returning, the Steelers know who their top two receivers will be in 2023. But who's No. 3?

Obviously, in terms of targets, it's tight end Pat Freiermuth, but what would happen if either Johnson or Pickens were injured?

Austin saw the majority of his playing time in college at Memphis on the outside, despite being 5-foot-9 and 162 pounds. He's got the speed to scare opposing defenses, but because he missed the entire preseason as well as the regular season, the Steelers still haven't seen him do it in a stadium.

Olszewski has 14 career catches in four seasons, while Sims is the most accomplished of the group with 75 career receptions, most of which came in his first two seasons with Washington.

Miller, a former second-round pick of the Bears, has had success in the NFL, recording 101 combined catches in 2019 and 2020. He's also returned punts and kickoffs in the NFL.

A bounce-back season by Johnson would go a long way toward making this group more dangerous in 2023. He made the Pro Bowl in 2021, and while he doesn't necessarily need to do that again next season, if he can be in that conversation, it would greatly improve the offense.

Johnson has taken a lot of heat for dropped passes, but he had just seven drops in 2022, which wasn't anywhere close to the NFL lead of 13 by Jacksonville's Zay Jones, 12 by Cleveland's Amari Cooper or 11 by Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase.

Pickens should take a step forward in 2023. After all, he had just five receptions for 65 yards in the month of September to start his rookie season.

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