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Omar Khan: Steelers Still Looking for Slot WR Help



Steelers Miles Boykin Steven Sims Chase Claypool

PHOENIX — The Pittsburgh Steelers were aggressive in the early part of free agency, adding players along the offensive line, at linebacker in the secondary while retaining a handful of their own free agents-to-be.

But one place that went untouched on the Steelers roster was slot wide receiver, and the team actually had a departure from the position, as the team’s end-of-year starter at that spot, Steven Sims, left through free agency for the Houston Texans.

Sims was the second departure from the 2022 Steelers slot receiver group, as opening-week starter Chase Claypool was traded midseason to the Chicago Bears.

The Steelers got 258 slot snaps from Claypool in 2022 and another 116 from Sims. Flexed tight ends Pat Freiermuth (180), Connor Heyward (33) and Zach Gentry (19) and shifted outside receivers Diontae Johnson (86) and George Pickens (81) provided most of the rest.

Only Gunner Olszewski, who played 67 snaps in the slot last year, is currently slated to return to the team. The Steelers do have two other intriguing internal options. Both Calvin Austin III and Anthony Miller are set to return after missing the 2022 season with injuries.

Austin was the team’s fourth-round draft pick and was missed the whole year with a Lisfranc sprain. Miller, a veteran, looked poised to lock down a roster spot with a very strong training camp and preseason before a dislocated shoulder landed him on the season-ending injured reserve list.

Those three will likely be in the mix for snaps at the spot, but general manager Omar Khan said on Tuesday that the team is not done at the position.

We’re looking to upgrade at every position, so, I’d say yes, we’re obviously going to look at the slot position and identify what the slot means to us,” Khan said. “The slot receiver for everyone is a little different.”

The Steelers have traditionally used bigger bodied receivers in the slot, such as Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster, because of their blocking prowess and their ability to fight for tough yards over the middle, where bigger safeties and linebackers do most of the tackling.

But they don’t seem to have an option like that on the roster right now, with Austin (5—foot-8), Miller (5-foot-11) and Olszewski (5-foot-10) all slight of build. Khan said the front office staff will soon be meeting with assistant coaches to hammer down the team’s draft board, and there’s definitely a chance that will result in slot receiver being high on the team’s draft board.

Khan also made pains to say that the team is not done singing free agents and that a lot of talent remains at the position. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made headlines for showing up unannounced at the owner’s meeting to make his case to return to the league. Other free agent slot options include Randall Cobb and Jarvis Landry.

“We’ll keep evaluating what’s out there,” he said. “There is still a lot of good players out there. As much as we’re interested in them, they’ve got to be interested in us. We’re still going through that process. That has not stopped.”

NFL Annual Meeting

Click for more of Alan Saunders’ coverage from the 2023 NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix.

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