You need not look hard nor long to find somebody talking up Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens, a second-round draft pick in April whom most believe has first-round abilities, and whose draft stock dropped only because of concerns about his injured knee.
Pickens has been consistently making plays during training camp for the Steelers, and has had plenty of opportunities to work with the first-team offense while Diontae Johnson was on the sidelines during his contract negotiations. Chase Claypool has also missed time due to a shoulder injury.
But he’s been standing out for a lot longer than he’s been in Pittsburgh. Even more so to those who had the opportunity to see him outside of stadiums. Daniel Jeremiah, the veteran scout and draft analyst, talked yesterday on the NFL Network about what he’s been hearing from his George connections:
George Pickens. Remember the name. George Pickens. I’m telling you guys, this dude is as talented as any young receiver we’ve seen come in. I know the production wasn’t there, he’d been injured, but when I have people in Georgia who’ve been around that program forever say this kid’s gonna be better than A.J. Green, my ears perk up a little bit. And from everything I’ve heard earlier in camp, he’s somebody you better pay attention to.
That’s some high praise, of course. A.J. Green was the fourth-overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, and he presided over pretty much the only notable period of the team’s modern history up until last season, making the playoffs for his first five seasons there, just the second time they ever made the playoffs two years in a row, and the first ever three or more.
A seven-time Pro Bowler in each of his first seven seasons, before injuries sidelined his career, Green was a force during that period, catching 556 passes for 8,213 yards with 57 touchdowns in 102 games played.
Both he and Pickens have a similar build, Green being slightly taller, but they share a profile similar enough to make some projections. Of course, it’s a lofty expectation for him to supersede such a proven commodity, but if that’s what people are seeing in him, especially those who had the opportunity to be around both guys at the same points in their career, I’m not going to be the one to say they’re going too far.
Now, how much of an impact Pickens will be able to have as a rookie remains to be seen. He should be regarded as the favorite to open the season as the number three receiver alongside Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but we don’t even know how much they’re going to be putting the ball in the air—and Johnson is going to be getting a lot of those targets. The tight ends could also be in for a boosted role. But talent talks, and if his play demands the ball, he’ll get it.