Entering the 2022 regular season opener, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens looked like he was going to be the next big star at the position.
Pickens, selected 52nd overall in the 2022 NFL Draft out of the University of Georgia, was one of the top receivers in the NFL Draft class and got off to a fast start in training camp and the preseason. He looked like a dangerous combination of height, weight and speed, one that could dominate consistently on the outside.
Quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and fellow rookie Kenny Pickett seemed to trust him immensely during camp and preseason, but once the regular season started the targets dried up, taking away some opportunities for the young receiver to dominate the way he had in camp and the preseason.
Of course, Pickens showed flashes like the six-catch, 102-yard performance against the New York Jets, the six-catch, 83-yard performance against the Buffalo Bills and the six-catch, 61-yard performance with his first career touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.
Still, the target share wasn’t where it was expected. That likely changes moving forward after the Steelers traded third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick, opening up opportunities for Pickens, which he took advantage of in Week 10, scoring a rushing touchdown on a jet sweep in the 20-10 win.
He’s taking on an expanded role and is earning praise from veteran teammates, not only for his talents and abilities on the field but his overall comfort and mental processing within the game.
Speaking with reporters Monday, second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth praised Pickens for executing at a high level within the Steelers’ offense so quickly, according to original reporting from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski.
“George, obviously, is more comfortable in the offense, having a bunch of games under his belt,” Freiermuth said, according to original reporting via Adamski. “He’s executing at a high level right now. We have seen growth from … (Pickens). He’s definitely understanding the offense more, and you can see he’s playing faster out there.”
Pickens is certainly playing faster, is making plays when called upon and is getting more and more comfortable within himself and his role in the Steelers’ offense.
A massive breakout appears to be coming though, especially with Claypool now in Chicago. Though that didn’t transpire Sunday against the Saints (just four targets overall) some of that can be attributed to the Steelers’ success running the football on the afternoon, leading to 43 carries for 217 yards and two touchdowns – one of which was from Pickens.
As long as he continues to execute at a high level and play fast each and every week, the growth will continue and will ultimately lead to a breakout second half that everyone is seemingly expecting.
Being the clear-cut No. 2 option at receiver will certainly help that. Add in the fact that he has great chemistry with Pickett and it’s quite obvious that a strong second half of the season is on the way from the former Georgia star. It might even show signs of that impressive training camp and preseason that he displayed in the summer.