The trade deadline deal of third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Chicago Bears for a second round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft was a bit surprising and seemingly hurts the Steelers’ already limited offense even more.
However, the trade of Claypool also opens up more playing time and opportunities for emerging rookie wide receiver George Pickens in the Steel City, which could in turn lead to quite the second half from the second round pick.
CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan certainly believes a big second half is in store for Pickens, predicting him to make a late run to the Offensive Rookie of the Year award now that Claypool is out of the picture and more targets could be heading his way.
“George Pickens is currently 30/1 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, so you could make a case for this to be the boldest prediction of the bunch. With Chase Claypool traded to Chicago at the deadline, that opens up an additional 6.25 targets per game for any pass-catcher in Pittsburgh’s offense to take,” Sullivan writes regarding Pickens is his 10 second-half bold predictions piece for CBS Sports Thursday. “We’ll predict that Pickens will be the main beneficiary of Claypool’s absence and assert himself as arguably the best young receiver in his rookie class.
“Pickens has already shown a solid rapport with fellow rookie Kenny Pickett. Since Pickett became the starter in Week 5, Pickens has averaged 5.8 targets per game, and even that number is skewed a bit, thanks to a three-target game in Week 8 against Philadelphia (Claypool had six targets that week).”
On paper, it makes a ton of sense that Pickens could go off in the second half with more targets available and a better fit in the slot next to him inside with the likes of Steven Sims and tight end Pat Freiermuth, rather than Claypool. That could draw a bit more attention inside due to the speed and shiftiness of Sims, and the route running of Freiermuth, opening up space for Pickens.
Still, 6.25 available targets now in the offense after the trade of Claypool is a great opportunity for Pickens to take another step in his game, especially with his rapport with Pickett so far this season.
Through eight games, Pickens has a decent stat line of 26 catches for 338 yards and a touchdown, including a career-best six catches for 102 yards against the Jets. Opportunity is knocking for the former Georgia star, and the schedule lightens up some for the Steelers after the bye week, including matchups the Falcons, Ravens (twice) and Raiders in the second half, all three of whom are in the bottom 10 of the league in passing yards allowed per game.
While he’s a long shot to win the award at this point, a big second half could propel him to the award, turning CBS Sports’ “bold” prediction into a reality.