The Steelers have a knack for finding talented receivers that other teams love to hate. Could George Pickens be the next?
The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to some familiar faces this off-season when they chose to move on from Wide Receivers Juju Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington. While many fans may be sad to see them go, it is hard to not get excited about the future of the team at the receiver position.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert knew they had some work to do this past draft cycle after three players that made up a combined 138 targets, stepped into the free-agent market. It was not a shock to see them take two receivers in the 2022 draft, one of them being former Georgia Bulldog standout George Pickens.
Pickens, the Hoover Alabama native, was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and came into college ready to set the SEC on fire. An impressive Freshman campaign turned the heads of many NFL scouts and instantly made him a prospect to watch for the next couple of years. His production, unfortunately, took a hit over the next two seasons due to an unusual and bizarre Sophomore campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the majority of his Junior year was cut short by an ACL Injury. Despite the dip in his numbers, the former SEC All-Freshman had obvious talent and potential, which is exactly why the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the second round this past draft.
George Pickens’ Impact This Season
Outside of Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, the Steeler’s wide receiver depth chart is completely open. If Pickens can fully recover from his ACL tear last spring, he has a very real chance at competing for that third receiver spot this season. It is not far-fetched to say the former Bulldog could develop into Pittsburgh’s number-one deep threat. Something many thought Claypool would become, but struggled in that department last season after a very promising rookie outing.
The Steeler’s second-round draft pick displayed a uniquely large catch radius on several highlight-worthy snags in his collegiate career, something that I am sure both Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett are chomping at the bit to utilize this upcoming season and for years to come. It’s a heck of a lot easier to settle into an offense when you can lob it up and know your guy is going to come down with it no matter what.
George Pickens also showcased tremendous body control on contested catches during his time at Georgia and had a knack for taking the top off of defenses, something the Steelers have been searching for the last few seasons. While his talent in the passing game is undeniable, Pickens also brings physicality and ferociousness to his run blocking comparable to that of previous Steeler fan favorites, Hines Ward and Juju Smith-Schuster.
The George Pickens/Hines Ward Comparison
Their stature and athleticism may differ quite a bit but is undeniable that they have similar mentalities when it comes to the gridiron. Hines was always ready to make a clutch catch late in the game, and equally as ready to lay down a vicious block to set the edge for his teammates.
The new Steeler’s receiver has even said himself that he enjoys getting down and dirty in the run game, just as Hines did. The clip of him putting former Michigan Wolverine and fellow rookie Dax Hill on the turf spread like wildfire this offseason. While Pickens was praised for the highlight block, he received plenty of backlash for his 2019 scuffle with a Georgia Tech defender that resulted in a half-game suspension.
Some may view his actions on the field as reckless or immature, but others may feel that George Pickens is just extremely passionate about the game and will not back down from a challenge. His tenaciousness and intensity will be welcomed by Steelers fans and most likely despised by rivals, much like Hines were in the 2000s.
George Pickens is polarizing, to say the least, and has the talent to be the next big playmaker in Pittsburgh. I for one am extremely excited to see how his career pans out, and I believe many Steelers fans should be as well.