The Pittsburgh Steelers selected WR George Pickens with the 52nd overall selection in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Prior to the 2021 season, many expected Pickens to be a first-round lock, but he unfortunately tore his ACL during spring practice, causing him to miss nearly the entire 2021 season. However, Pickens battled back with his rehab, getting back on the field at the end of the season to provide the Bulldogs offense a spark down the stretch, which resulted in a National Championship.
Along with the injury concerns, rumors swirled in the pre-draft process concerning Pickens and has maturity. After impressive Pittsburgh with impressive Combine and Pro Day performances along with vetting the young man’s character throughout the spring, the Steelers felt more than comfortable with the medical and perceived character issues to select the talented wideout on Day 2.
Still, a question was posed on the most recent edition of The Terrible Podcast with Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora regarding what Pickens’s potential stat line may be in 2022 as a rookie transitioning to the league. Both Dave and Alex made sure to recognize Pickens as a talented player with immense upside, but also the fact that he hasn’t played a full season of football since 2020 and is still raw. Pickens just turned 21 this March and finished his college career with 90 receptions for 1,347 yards and 14 TDs.
Seeing as 2022 will be his first full-time action post-knee injury as he makes the jump from college competition to the pros, it may be wise to expect Pickens to be eased into the offense rather than making an immediate impact out of the gate. One player that both podcast hosts brought up as a potential comparison for Pickens and his situation as a rookie is none other than former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant.
Much like Pickens, Bryant was an immensely talented WR coming out of Clemson, having the height, speed, and explosiveness to be a big-play threat down the field. However, his impact in the college game was rather pedestrian like Pickens was playing alongside Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. For his college career, Bryant caught 61 passes for 1,354 yards and 13 TDs, very similar numbers to Pickens outside the YPR. Pittsburgh selected Bryant in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft after also declaring early as a junior. Bryant spent the first six weeks of the season inactive due to a shaky training camp and preseason in addition to suffering a mild AC sprain in the last preseason game.
Once Bryant hit the field in Week 7 against the Houston Texans, the young athletic freak was unleashed. In ten games played (three starts) during his rookie campaign, Bryant went on to draw 48 targets, which he converted into 26 receptions for 549 yards (21.1 YPR) and eight TDs. He was the big-play threat Pittsburgh’s offense was missing, having the speed to take the top off the defense as well as the height and leaping ability to be a legit red zone threat.
Could we see Pickens have a similar rookie season to Bryant where he may take a few weeks to get traction, but then breakout down the stretch? It’s entirely possible. The key differences with Bryant and Pickens are that while Pickens is a great athlete in his own right and in a similar physical mold to Bryant, Bryant’s pure speed is on another level than Pickens. However, one could say that Pickens is more of a complete receiver than Bryant was to start his NFL career, having the capability to play both inside and outside should Pittsburgh utilize him in three-WR sets early on in 2022.
Bryant was also dealing with some inconsistencies in training camp as well as an AC joint sprain that kept him from getting a helmet early in 2014. Realistically, Pickens will be challenged as well in training camp this summer, and while he is fully recovered from the ACL, he still needs to get back to playing a full allotment of snaps in practice and games, often just playing in certain packages for the Bulldogs when he managed to get back at the end of the season.
Many would look at 25-30 receptions for 400-500 yards and 3-5 TDs as a disappointing season for Pickens, but his stat line will have to be taken into context of how soon he gets on the field and what percentage of snaps he ends up playing. Should he take the extended route to the field like Bryant did, you would be hard-pressed to complain about a similar stat line to what Bryant did as a rookie. Should Pickens see the field early on in 2022 as a rookie, we could see him produce a similar state line to what Chase Claypool managed to accomplish in his rookie season.
The two situations between Martavis Bryant and George Pickens have some eerie similarities when you compare the two side-by-side. Bryant took a bit before seeing the field but provided Pittsburgh with an electric spark in the passing game they desperately needed. Pickens could be in line to provide a similar impact in 2022 as a tantalizing rookie that should provide some juice to what was a limited passing attack the last couple of seasons.
What are your thoughts on George Pickens? Do you think that his situation entering the league compares favorably to Martavis Bryant as a rookie? Do you think Pickens will have a similar rookie season performance to Bryant in 2022? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!