It’s hard to lose three of your top five wide receivers from one season to the next, all as unrestricted free agents, and still come out on the other end feeling pretty good about where the group is. I suspect, however, that that is how the Pittsburgh Steelers are feeling heading into training camp about their wide receivers, even after losing most of their room from last season—and it has a lot to do with the draft, starting with George Pickens in the second round.
“George Pickens is probably one that I would say is a huge one”, former Steelers left tackle Max Starks recently told Lance Medow on the Movin’ the Chains show on SiriusXM Radio, when discussing the team’s offseason and their draft.
“You do lose JuJu [Smith-Schuster], you do lose that experience there. And Diontae [Johnson] and Chase [Claypool] had their moments, but there was no real dominant receiver that really took over”, he added, “and George Pickens comes in, and we’ll see what he can do to really help secure whoever’s at the quarterback position, [whether it be] Mitch [Trubisky] or Kenny [Pickett] or Mason [Rudolph]”.
Starks seemed pretty confident that Trubisky will end up being that quarterback under center come September, but as a rookie, he has an equal amount of history with all of the quarterbacks on the roster, anyway, so I’m not sure his impact waxes or wanes too much based on who ultimately ends up winning the starting job, at least based on their chemistry.
The 52nd-overall pick out of Georgia, Pickens is actually back from a torn ACL. He only played in four games last season, sparingly, even though many in his place wouldn’t have played at all, since he spent most of the year rehabbing his knee.
During his freshman season at Georgia, Pickens caught 49 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games. The Bulldogs’ pandemic-shortened eight-game 2020 season saw the new Steeler record 36 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns.
Aside from his talent on the field, he is also a physical specimen, measuring at 6’3” and 195 pounds in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. He also ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, and he did that while running for the first time without his knee brace. Chances are he could test even a bit faster later this year.
Not that that matters, as he has already shown that he has a full repertoire and the room to maximize it, which will allow him to be an early contributor for this Steelers wide receiver corps led by Johnson and Claypool—one that he has a very good chance of taking over and commandeering as his own a year or two from now.