The Pittsburgh Steelers won their preseason debut of 2022 against the Seattle Seahawks 32-25 on Saturday night. Kenny Pickett and George Pickens had outstanding games and are rightfully the headline grabbing performers. The Steelers quarterbacks all had passer ratings above 100 and the running game minus Najee Harris was effective with Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Warren and Master Teague all displaying the ability to run the ball effectively. The quarterback and running back competitions did not clarify themselves, and a new position competition emerged as one to watch in the upcoming practices and preseason games.
The Steelers’ top three wide receivers in no particular order of age are going to be Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Calvin Austin is highly likely to be the fourth receiver on the depth chart, but fans were denied our first look at him in a game due to a foot injury on Friday. Two players who were not considered in the conversation for roster spots before training camp began are fourth-year veteran Steven Sims and the undrafted free agent from the USC Trojans, Tyler Vaughns. That all changed Saturday night.
Sims who played his college football for the Kansas Jayhawks, went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, but was signed by the Washington Commanders. The former Big 12 standout not only made the team, but appeared in 28 games for the Commanders and managed 61 catches over two seasons with five touchdowns. He also returned kicks and punts for the Commanders during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Sims signed with the Steelers last season, but only appeared in one game for the black and gold.
The veteran wide out has established a nice rapport with Pickett during his training camp reps and has made several flashy plays. He saved his best performance so far for the Seahawks. Sims returned a punt near the end of the first quarter for the Steelers and broke off an exciting 38-yard dash that gave the team great field position and set up the Mason Rudolph to Pickens 26-yard touchdown. In the third quarter, while chants of “Kenny, Kenny” echoed in Acrisure Stadium, Sims took a jet sweep for another 38-yard jaunt that put Pittsburgh in position for Pickett to finish off his first drive as a professional with a touchdown. He only caught one pass for two yards, but Sims displayed his big play ability in the open field.
Vaughns is only one of three players to catch 220 balls or more during a career with the USC Trojans. The other two players, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, both went on to NFL careers. After three productive seasons that saw him increase his production every season, COVID-19 limited the program to six games in 2020 and Vaughns went undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. After signing with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent, he was one of the team’s final cuts. The Steelers signed him to their practice squad where he spent the 2021 season.
Kenny Pickett’s touchdown pass gives the Steelers the lead late!😤
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) August 14, 2022
Vaughns also has been working almost exclusively with Pickett during the sessions in Latrobe, PA. He has caught several touchdowns and has been one of the former Pitt Panther signal caller’s favorite targets in the red zone during practice. The former USC wide out was Pickett’s go to player for the winning touchdown against the Seahawks. Vaughns turned heads for his situational awareness and a nose for the goal line.
Sims’ and Vaughns’ big plays both significantly contributed to what was as legendary a preseason debut as you can hope for out of a hometown first round pick in Pickett. Pickett was poised, but he owes a big thank you to both receivers who may be fighting for just one available roster spot as the sixth wide receiver. Gunner Olszewski, who also contributed as a surprise starter on Saturday, is likely to make the team after his All-Pro season as a returner last season. That leaves the two undrafted free agents fighting for the final roster spot with Miles Boykin and Anthony Miller.
The Steelers will return to Saint Vincent College this week to prepare for the second preseason battle on Saturday, August 20th, 2022 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The wide receiver group is going to be must-see TV next weekend in the River City, with the likely return of Johnson, Claypool and Austin. At this point, the rest of the NFL may just be waiting to see who the Steelers release at the end of the training camp to improve various receiving corps around the league.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Are you excited to see if Sims and Vaughns can repeat their performance against Jacksonville? Please comment below or on my Twitter @thebubbasq.