Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens has consistently impressed throughout the early portion of training camp. Pickens’ athleticism has routinely been on display at practice. Buzz is beginning to emerge that Pickens could play his way into a legitimate role in the Steelers’ passing offense right away this season.
The No. 52 overall selection in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Pickens joined a team with a middling passing offense that averaged just 222.2 passing yards per contest last season. A dwindling Ben Roethlisberger negatively impacted Pittsburgh’s ability to attack opposing defenses via the air. Questions about their overall effectiveness remain even in the wake of Roethlisberger’s retirement. Whether it’s Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, or Mason Rudolph under center for the Steelers this season, more explosive passing plays and overall success is expected, but not guaranteed.
Pittsburgh has drafted and developed receivers at an alarmingly successful rate over the last decade. Analysts questioned Pittsburgh’s decision to draft Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson in the second and third round, respectively, just one year apart. Both of those selections have quickly paid dividends for the Steelers. The Steelers also turned a little-known sixth-round pick in Antonio Brown into the best receiver in the league once upon a time.
When Pittsburgh drafts a receiver, you should pay attention. Pickens appears next in line.
Pickens is currently competing to be Pittsburgh’s No. 3 receiver alongside the likes of fellow rookie Calvin Austin III and Anthony Miller. Pickens is clearly the most gifted player in this positional battle. Given the lack of competition and backend depth, there’s no reason why Pickens can’t play himself into a semi-prominent role in Pittsburgh’s offense. Continuing to earn the trust of his coaching staff throughout July and August will be crucial to Pickens’ chances of carving out a role for himself.
It’s worth monitoring how pass-happy Pittsburgh’s offense will be. The Steelers featured one of the worst rushing attacks in the league last season, averaging just 93.1 rushing yards per game. It wasn’t due to a lack of trying. Standout running back Najee Harris carried the ball on a healthy 307 occasions. Only the rushing champion Jonathan Taylor attempted more carries (332) than Harris did. Harris also recorded 74 receptions.
With more uncertainty under center, the Steelers are expected to remain a run-heavy offense that leans on Harris’ dual-threat abilities. Coupling that with Pickens working behind Claypool and Johnson (and potentially Harris) in the passing game suggests Pickens may not be in line for an explosive 1,000-yard campaign. It doesn’t mean he can’t still have a positive impact on Pittsburgh’s passing offense, however.
Pickens was a standout star at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, which qualifies as an excellent result given his overall stature. Pickens then recorded a 10-foot-5 broad jump, another result that earned appreciation. Pickens has been displaying that athleticism at training camp.
Once considered one of the more electric receiving prospects in the nation, Pickens suffered a torn ACL injury during spring practices in March of 2021. While Pickens spent the majority of his final season at Georgia rehabbing from the devastating setback, his fellow NFL-worthy collegiate receivers were allowed to showcase their first-round talents. Pickens did return in time for Georgia’s regular-season finale against Georgia Tech and proceeded to partake in the Bulldogs’ National Championship triumph over Alabama. Had Pickens been healthy throughout his final season at Georgia, he would have almost certainly been in the first-round conversation.
Pickens enters the NFL with some alleged maturity questions/concerns. He’s landed in the ideal environment. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin is a no-nonsense leader with a resume decorated with managing difficult personalities. Everything about this marriage screams immediate success.