The Pittsburgh Steelers selecting him in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft already tells you that they have big plans for former Georgia wide receiver George Pickens, especially as his selection came in an offseason in which the team lost three wide receivers in free agency.
The rookie spent his first training camp practice seeing a good amount of time running with the first-team offense, and more than holding his own, in particular having a good, spirited back-and-forth battle with the defense’s top cornerback, Cameron Sutton.
But that’s all it means to him, nothing more. When he was asked about the first-team reps that he got, he told reporters, via the team’s website, that “It doesn’t really mean anything”, and that “We really just practice every other play”, referring to the coaching staff shuffling different personnel on and off the field.
Truth be told, Pickens’ first-team reps mean even less now than they might under normal circumstances, for the simple fact that Diontae Johnson is currently doing very little in practice. The team’s number one wide receiver is hoping for a new contract as he enters the final season of his rookie deal, and is following the advice of his representatives to play it safe on the field.
And, well, the Steelers don’t have much outside of Johnson, a 2021 Pro Bowl alternate selection, if you’re talking about proven commodities. The only other returning veteran of note is Chase Claypool, who logged a healthy chunk of time in the slot yesterday as he looks to transition into playing more of that role following the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster.
They do have some other veterans, retaining Anthony Miller and Steven Sims from last year’s practice squad. Both have prior NFL experience, with Miller being a former second-round pick, as well as former Chicago teammate of Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback who was taking most of those first-team reps at Saint Vincent yesterday. Pittsburgh also claimed Miles Boykin off waivers from the Ravens earlier this offseason.
But it’s not hard to see why Pickens is out there, either theoretically or practically. A second-round draft pick is always going to stand a good chance of seeing some quality reps, no matter how early on in the process it is, especially at a position like wide receiver, which is becoming increasingly more adaptable toward early contributions from rookies.
More importantly, what he has done on the field only reinforces the quality of opportunities he is getting on the field. He’s not just playing first-string snaps, he’s playing at a first-string level. He was the favorite to be the number three receiver alongside Johnson and Claypool the second the Steelers knew he would be on the board when they were on the clock, and he’s done nothing to reduce his odds since then. He’s only reinforced it.