There’s no question the caliber of player George Pickens could become. It’s just a question of if and when. First-round ability with a March 2021 ACL tear pushed him into the second round and into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ laps at #52. They made Pickens a Steeler, now with the goal of unlocking his potential. Speaking with reporters following Tuesday’s minicamp practice, Mike Tomlin said he’s unsure how quickly Pickens will develop.
“Very much in development,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “He’s got a lot of talent but he’s raw. But that’s okay. That’s why we have coaches that’s our job to help him grow and develop, not only him, but all of them. He’s got a lot of talent. We drafted him where we drafted him based on that talent. It’s our job and his job to develop the skill that allows those talents to show regardless of circumstance.”
Pickens is a plus athlete with great fluidity for his long and somewhat wiry frame. He finds and plucks the ball out of the air, displayed great body control, and is a willing, physical blocker. But he’s also 21, an underclassman, who hardly played in 2021 after recovering from his knee injury. He did return and played in a handful of games but caught just five passes in his final season, though he came up large with a 52-yard grab in the Bulldogs’ title game over the Crimson Tide.
New wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson certainly has his hands full this year. Turning around Chase Claypool’s season after a bump in the 2021 road, developing rookies in Pickens and Calvin Austin III, and finding consistent slot receiver production after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud.
While Pickens is big on talent, rookie expectations should be set a bit lower. It’s possible his rookie year looks something a bit closer to James Washington, a less athletic but similarly raw player, than it does to Claypool, who burst on scene in 2020. Something resembling a 30-catch, 440-yard, two-touchdown season is possible for Pickens as he works on his craft and gets back after practically missing an entire year of football. By now means would that be a bad year #1, though it could be viewed that way for those who think he’s destined to have a 1,000-yard campaign out of the gate.