Typically, wide receivers are often pegged to one specific position in the formation that best suits their strengths. Your X receiver is normally your #1 option in the passing game, but a guy that is a nuanced route runner that can work in all quadrants of the field and separate from coverage. Your Z receiver is normally your big play threat that is tasked with taking the top off the defense, traditionally challenging defenses vertically with impressive speed and/or body frame. Your Y receiver is normally your slot receiver that works the short and intermediate portions of the field, being asked to uncover quickly against slot defenders and linebackers to pick up first downs and be a reliable target on possession downs over the middle.
However, there are several receivers in the NFL that can move to different positions and play different roles to get the best matchups. Often times you will see Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill play both inside and outside, changing roles in the formation to get an advantage on the defender matched up with them in coverage.
When asked about how much the team is putting on his plate as far as the playbook is considered, Pickens made it seem like he’s ready to run at any position Pittsburgh puts him at in the offense.
“My freshman year, I usually I played Z and I’m normally like a X,” Pickens responded to the question prior to practice via video from the team’s website. “Like a backside receiver, X one-on-one type of deal. But it’s kind of the same thing to be honest It really helped playing the pro-style offense. It’s the same thing.”
George Pickens played in a pro-style offense at the University of Georgia where the team operated in amore run-heavy offense. He came to the Bulldogs as a highly-touted recruit, having that size and speed to challenge defenses vertically and win deep down the field on jump balls as a Z receiver should.
However, Pickens transitioned to the X as a sophomore, becoming more of the focal point of the passing game. His stats may not have reflected it, but the offensive philosophy as well as the quarterback play didn’t do him any favors.
Pickens was thought to be the #1 WR in the 2022 draft class heading into the spring last year before an ACL tear cost him most of the 2021 season. He managed to battle back and play for the Bulldogs down the stretch helping them win the CFP National Championship. He put to rest any concerns about his health and the Combine and at his Pro Day, testing well enough to give the Steelers the peace of mind to select him 52nd overall in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Pickens may be considered raw, having only played in 24 games in college and finished his career with 90 receptions, but he has quickly shown he has the talent to make an impact right away as Pittsburgh begins its second week of training camp. According to Pickens, not only does he have the physical attributes to shine if given the opportunity, but also the mental makeup of having played multiple spots to play wherever the coaches decide to place him once the season kicks off this fall.