With the 52nd pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Georgia WR George Pickens. Pickens was widely regarded as one of, if not the top WRs in the draft class at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft heading into the spring. However, Pickens unfortunately tore his ACL during spring practices in March, making it look like he was going to miss the rest of the 2021 season. However, Pickens battled back to take the field in late November and help the Georgia Bulldogs win the CFP National Championship with several pivotal splash plays.
OC Matt Canada reiterated those statements after the pick was made, stating the following:
“Super excited about George and the draft pick we got,” Canada told reporters via the team’s YouTube channel. “Coming out of last year as we began early draft prep, we thought maybe he was the best wideout coming out. He had a tough injury there through the spring. Showed great battle in coming back and played late in the year for them.”
I had the privilege to complete Pickens’ pre-draft profile for Steelers Depot, and while breaking down the tape, I couldn’t help but compare his game to another talented WR that came out of the University of Georgia nearly a decade ago: A.J. Green. Now, many would say that this comparison is far out of left field given the fact that Pickens fell to the middle of the second round. However, given the depth of this WR class, the fact he missed most of the season due to a ACL injury, and the reports of character issues circulating among teams, it’s not hard to see a player like Pickens slide on draft day.
The Steelers have no issues with any character concerns with Pickens since Canada lauded his character to come back and be available for his team when they needed him most. They thoroughly vetted Pickens during the pre-draft process, having interviewed him several times at the NFL Combine and sent the house to the Georgia Pro Day, having WR Coach Frisman Jackson put him through the workout.
In fact, A.J. Green had his own issues coming out of college, being suspended four games by the NCAA for selling his Independence Bowl jersey to an agent at a party in Miami.. Obviously, this is different that the fights that Pickens has gotten into on the field in college, but Green had a similar instance occur with then-Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were ecstatic to have Pickens fall into their lap at #52, and if they feel that Pickens could have been considered the best WR in this draft class without the injury, the comparisons to Green could be warranted. First, let’s compare the two athletes from a measurables and college production standpoint and then go to the tape to see the players’ traits side-by-side.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia
6032, 195lb, 8 3/4” hands, 32 3/8” arm, 77 3/8” wing
4.47 40, 10’5” broad, 34.5” vert
Career Stats at Georgia (3 seasons):
90 receptions for 1,347 yards (15.0 YPR) and 14 TDs
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
6035, 211lb, 9 1/4” hand, 34 3/8” arm
4.50 40, 10’6” broad, 34.5” vert
Career Stats at Georgia (3 seasons):
166 receptions for 2,619 yards (15.8 YPR) and 23 TDs
George Pickens may not possess elite deep speed, but he is more than fast enough to challenge defenses vertically down the field. His size and ability to stack defensive backs allow him to create separation up the sideline to get a step on the defender tasked with covering him like we see here against Auburn and recently drafted CB Roger McCreary of the Tennessee Titans, getting an outside release up the sideline and hauls in the score over the shoulder into the breadbasket.
A.J. Green has that exact same ability as we have seen for years with him playing in Cincinnati with the Bengals, but also in college with the Bulldogs. Watch this rep against Colorado where QB Aaron Murray lofts up the deep ball to Green who gets a step on the defender up the sideline and catches the ball in the breadbasket as well right in front of the defender who eventually escorts him out of bounds.
In the same game against Colorado, Green has probably his highlight moment in college on this sick one-handed circus catch in the end zone, elevating up into the air on the back shoulder fade to bring down the highlight TD grab.
We see that same acrobatic catch ability from Pickens with examples littered throughout his tape. He has the size, body control, and leaping ability to reel in even the most difficult of passes while being smothered in coverage by defenders draped all over him. Here is a good example similar to the Green’s play above where Pickens hauls in an impressive jump ball attempt that he snags with outstretched hands over a defender in the end zone, coming down with the ball in-bounds for the score.
In fact, Pickens has some of the best hands in this draft class as WR expert for Steelers Depot Tyler Wise said, “George Pickens had a 2.2% drop rate on 92 targets in his career, one of the lowest in this draft class.”
Check out this grab against Missouri where Pickens gets an outside release, but must come back to the football, elevating up and snagging it on top of the defender’s head, having the wherewithal to come down with his feet in-bounds while the defender tries to knock the ball out, showing his ability to secure the catch amidst contested coverage.
Green has proven to be that sure-handed receiver as well, routinely making plays against contested coverage like we see on this tough grab against the Florida Gators.
On 50/50 ball situations, you often want to have a receiver that you feel that you can throw it up to and they tip those odds into their favor. Green has made a name for that during his time in the league, and that ability to win those combative catches down the field was on full display in college like we see here on this impressive catch against Tennessee.
Pickens, with a similar frame and near identical athleticism, is also a contested catch savant as seen in the previous plays above but can also be seen on this catch on the jump ball against Missouri which is like the one that Green makes in the above clip. Watch as Pickens high points the football down the field and contorts his body to turn and make the catch through contact and try and pick up extra yards after the catch.
For being a bigger receiver, A.J. Green has shown again and again that he can be a weapon in the screen game and close to the LOS, having the ability to make defenders miss in space as well as the play strength to pick up additional yards after the catch upon contact. We see that here on this screen pass where Green catches the ball and gets up the sideline, shaking off one tackle attempt and proceeds to fight for extra yardage until and slew of UCF Knights fly in to take him down.
Pickens also possesses a fair amount of shake and elusiveness as a runner in the open field, getting in and out of his breaks cleanly for a 6’3+ WR, but also can create for himself after the catch. On this play against Mississippi State, Pickens catches a simple hitch route and turns up field, faking out one defender and runs up the sideline to maximize yardage gained after the catch until being forced out of bounds.
While Pickens may not have been gifted with elite deep speed like some other top prospects, his long limbs give him the buildup long speed to be difficult to catch in the open field once he gets going. This makes Pickens a viable threat after the catch like we see on this slant pattern against the Tigers where Pickens comes across the middle and catches the ball in-stride before leaving a diving tackler behind him as he accelerates in open space, not allowing the pursuit to catch him as he takes the short pass to the end zone for six.
If you haven’t caught the trend yet, Green shows that exact same run-after-catch on tape as well. Green actually tested slower than Pickens who was coming off the ACL injury, but still has shown to have wheels when he gets going in the open field. Watch this near identical slant play to Green as the one from above by Pickens where Green catches the pass in-stride and beats the defender trying to get an angle of pursuit on him, stepping out of the diving tackle attempt and scores on the long catch-and-run TD.
This breakdown isn’t to say that George Pickens is the second coming of A.J. Green. Rather, Pickens shares a lot of similar qualities of Green, having the ability to play a similar role in the NFL with the talent level to potentially have a similar impact should he fully return to health post-injury. Both receivers were consensus five-star recruits coming out of high school and both starred at the University of Georgia. Both receivers have similar play styles and athleticism, possessing nearly identical play speed, explosiveness, and elusiveness. Green is a bit longer and heavier, but both he and Pickens have fantastic body control, sure hands, fluid route running ability, and that alpha WR mentality to win combative catch situations on a regular basis.
While Green posted better stats in college, both receivers were undoubtedly held back by QB play and the system they were asked to play in at Georgia. Pickens even was a recipient of the A.J. Green Family Football Scholarship named in the former Georgia WR’s honor.
Pickens is raw when it comes to his overall experience playing in college and becoming a more nuanced receiver that can be that prototypical WR1 in the league. However, when you watch the tape, you see that Pickens has that range of outcomes in his wheelhouse, like what Green has done in the NFL for the better part of a decade. The jury is out if Pickens can ever reach that level of play in the league but given the Pittsburgh Steelers track record at drafting and developing WR talent, the situation is as good as any for Pickens to become the WR he was touted to be prior to the injury.
What are your thoughts of the selection of WR George Pickens? Do you see similarities between his game and the game of A.J. Green coming out of Georgia back in 2011? Can Pickens become a prototypical WR1 in the league given his talent and abilities, or do you see ham as being capped in terms of what he can be in the NFL? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!