With the trade of Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, the remaining targets in the receiving core expect to see at least a bump in overall target share. Some of Claypool’s vacated targets figure to go to WR Steven Sims who appears set to play more in the slot, but we should also come to expect more looks for WRs Diontae Johnson and George Pickens as well as TE Pat Freiermuth was the team’s most established pass game weapons.
Rookie WR George Pickens is particularly interesting in terms of his usage going forward. He has developed somewhat of a chemistry with fellow rookie QB Kenny Pickett as a target he often looks for on key possession downs or down the field when the team needs a big play. The two have hooked up for a few impressive connections since Pickett was named the starter, including Pittsburgh’s only passing TD of the season by a WR on the current roster in Miami.
Given the loss of Claypool in the WR core, ESPN foresees Pickens coming on strong down the stretch of the 2022 season, predicting in their latest midseason article that he will finish as a top-20 WR in fantasy football in the second half of the season.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie had the team’s fourth-most targets (43) prior to the Week 9 bye, behind Diontae Johnson (76), Chase Claypool (50) and Pat Freiermuth (48),”said ESPN fantasy analyst Eric Moody. “But by trading Claypool to the Bears, Pittsburgh is signaling that it’s ready to expand Pickens’ role in the offense. This season, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has a 92.2 QBR when targeting Pickens. And 26.9% of his catches have gone for 20-plus yards, tied for third most in the NFL among players with at least 40 targets. I think Pickens even has an outside shot at Offensive Rookie of the Year.”
NFL Insider Josina Anderson mentioned the day of the trade that the Steelers were comfortable trading away Claypool to give rookie George Pickens an expanded role in the offense. Pickens has showcased the talent and skill set to become a #1 WR in his limited opportunities this season, and with an improved environment around him regarding QB play and a more consistent offense, he could possibly see some of that promise come to fruition in the second half of the season like Moody makes the case for above.
While the limitations of Pittsburgh’s offense will likely keep Pickens from a full breakout down the stretch, it’s feasible that the rookie WR will receive more looks in the passing game, leading to more catches, yards, and hopefully TDs in Kenny Pickett becomes more consistent in the red zone. Regardless, it’s clear that George Pickens is the future at the WR position in Pittsburgh, and the departure of Claypool only further emphasizes the trust and intrigue the coaching staff and front office have in their young star receiver.