Van Jefferson Leading Steelers’ WR2 Competition?

Much has been made this offseason about the Steelers’ receiving corps. Few (if any) known commodities are in place behind George Pickens on the depth chart, leading to the expectation Pittsburgh would pursue a high-profile trade.

Such a move has not yet taken place, though, and as a result the team’s internal options are on track to compete for playing time during training camp and the preseason. Pickens will handle the No. 1 role in 2024, his first season without Diontae Johnson in the fold. The latter was traded to the Panthers, creating a vacancy on the perimeter. Likewise, Allen Robinson‘s release opened up a starting spot in the slot.

Quez Watkins joined the Steelers this offseason in part due to the opportunity he would have to earn a first-team role, but a different free agent signing appears to have the inside track for the WR2 gig. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes Van Jefferson is currently “in pole position” for a starting spot (subscription required). The latter spent three-plus years with the Rams before being traded to the Falcons ahead of the 2023 deadline.

That move allowed Jefferson, 27, to spend time playing under Arthur Smith. The ex-Falcons head coach is now in place as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and that familiarity could translate to a role in Pittsburgh. Jefferson had a strong second season in Los Angeles (50 catches, 802 yards, six touchdowns), but he has not managed to repeat that production since. The former second-rounder signed with the Steelers on a league minimum deal, an indication of his market value and his tenuous hold on a roster spot entering training camp.

Pittsburgh has the likes of third-round rookie Roman Wilson and 2022 fourth-rounder Calvin Austin in the mix for signficant playing time in the slot in particular. The latter is on track for an increased workload compared to last year, but the spot opposite Pickens will be one to monitor during the summer. Jefferson, Watkins and Scotty Miller are among the names to watch on that front. It will be interesting to see if Jefferson delivers a strong showing in camp and the preseason or if one of the other contenders surpasses him in the receiver pecking order.

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