Coming out of the University of Georgia fresh off of a national championship and some highlight-reel plays, wide receiver George Pickens should have been one of the top receivers drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Instead, due to some character concerns and some medical red flags due to the torn ACL he suffered early in 2021 before returning for the final four games of Georgia’s championship run, Pickens slipped all the way to No. 52 overall, landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin.
Historically, the Steelers have been rather good at drafting and developing wide receivers, and Pickens appears to be next in a long line of those receivers, pairing with the likes of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and fellow rookie Calvin Austin III. According to ESPN Insider Jeremy Fowler, Pickens is one of three rookie receivers in the NFL that he highlighted Sunday on ESPN’s SportsCenter who will make an immediate impact in 2022.
Though Pickens profiles as more of a No. 3 ahead of his first season with the black and gold, Fowler believes there’s a real opportunity for Pickens to produce with the Steelers.
“This one is fascinating, because he has first-round talent,” Fowler said on SportsCenter Sunday, according to video via ESPN.com. “He slipped to the second round, largely due to professionalism questions, whether he can handle the rigors of the NFL game. I spoke with somebody with the Steelers who said he’s been sharp since he’s been there. They’ve had no issues on that front.
“I spoke to somebody close to Pickens as well, who said that he [Pickens] wanted to go to a place with a really strong team culture that he could learn from. Pittsburgh, which is great at drafting wide receivers, is just that.”
Pickens certainly steps into a strong situation overall in Pittsburgh, though the Steelers are going through a bit of a transition following the retirements of former GM Kevin Colbert and longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Still, Pickens comes into a wide receiver room that is rebuilding on the fly around Johnson and Claypool.
What is role will look like in 2022 as a rookie remains to be seen overall, but there’s an opportunity there for a Martavis Bryant-like impact from the former Georgia star, as Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter pointed out last week. Of course, Bryant was slow to hit the ground running due to a shoulder injury, but once he got onto the field he took off in a big way.
Though different style players overall, Pickens could become that major boost to a stagnant passing attack that struggled to push the football down the field and create chunk plays through the air. Fully recovered from the ACL injury suffered early in 2021, Pickens will be a full go for his first-ever Steelers’ training camp starting next week, hopefully giving him an opportunity to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact like Fowler believes he can.