After tearing his right ACL in March of 2021, the immediate future of Georgia wide receiver George Pickens was up in the air.
Wanting to be part of championship-caliber roster, Pickens battled all the way back from the knee injury to return for the 2021 season, eventually playing a key role in the Bulldogs winning the National Championship last season.
For many draft-eligible prospects, that type of knee injury would cause them to sit out the entire year and either enter the draft that season or come back the following season and try to rebuild draft stock. Pickens did neither and really bet on himself and his overall body of work, battling all the way back to be productive down the stretch, eventually becoming the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection at No. 52 overall.
The heart shown battling back from the knee injury showed the Steelers a ton of character regarding Pickens, who had some character concerns coming out of Georgia, according to Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who spoke to the media Friday night after the team’s second-round selection.
“Well, obviously I think the one intangible you really have to give him a lot of credit for is coming back and playing,” Canada said to reporters, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “I don’t have the exact, I had it back there a little bit ago looking at it, but I mean, eight and a half months or something from injury to coming back and playing. He didn’t have a huge role, but he came back and played late, had some significant plays, and fought to get back out there and play. And to me, that a great show of his character right there.
“He could have easily just said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna get healthy and wait,'” Canada added. “And we all see those things happen. So they had a great team. Obviously they had an exceptional season, but I think that shows a lot about him right there. And again, all on the field, you’ve seen it or you will see it as you go study him on tape…he can go down the field, he can make plays, he goes up and gets the football. We’re impressed with his hands, all those things you like about a wide out, but I think, probably for me sitting here, I think that said a lot about his character.
“He wanted to be part of that team. He wanted to be part of that championship and he fought to come back because, you guys been following the draft in here for two days, they’ve had a lot of guys come off the board, they had a lot of good players,” Canada added. “So I think that’s an impressive show of character for him.”
While it might not seem like much on paper, that type of stuff from a young player means a great deal not only to teammates, but coaches and front office executives, as well.
Just a few months ago, Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin praised current Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for battling back from a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery to be able to play in the Steelers’ Wild Card Round loss to the Chiefs, giving Pittsburgh a much-needed lift at the position.
Many can certainly question the decision from a financial standpoint for young players who are risking quite a bit coming back from an injury as quickly as Pickens did, but as Canada said, it showed a great deal of character, which likely played a factor in the Steelers going with Pickens in the second round at No. 52 overall, despite some of the character concerns floating around out there around the Bulldogs’ star.
Pickens later spoke with members of the Steelers’ media and talked extensively about returning from the torn ACL to help his team down the stretch. The biggest factor, according to Pickens, was wanting to come into the NFL with guys he entered Georgia with back in 2019.
“Really just the guys that I came out with was the group that I came in with and I wanted to uphold that as far as staying together as a bond, but another thing is they do say you have a risk or a chance of doing it again so that wouldn’t technically be the smartest choice,” Pickens said, according to the official transcript. “I just wanted to come out with the guys I started with.
“Like I was saying, I wanted to finish the season with the guys I started with, so coming back was already on my agenda immediately. As soon as I knew I was injured, that was already on my agenda,” Pickens added. “Another part of it is to have trust in coming back on the field and that’s one the things I have that a lot of guys don’t have.”