Hopes were high entering the 2022 season that the rookie combination of quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens, taken 32 picks apart in the 2022 NFL Draft, would be a dynamic pairing for years to come for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the production the two put up together this season for the 9-8 Steelers is any indication, the future is extremely bright for the QB/WR duo.
When Pickett targeted Pickens, it produced the highest QBR in the NFL. That’s all players, not just rookies in the NFL. According to ESPN Stats & Information in a recent piece done by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, Pickett had a 97.6 QBR when targeting Pickens this season, the best QBR by any quarterback targeting any receiver in 2022 with a minimum of 50 attempts.
Knowing that, it’s no surprise that Pickens and Pickett landed on NFL.com’s Top 25 rookie rankings to close out the 2022 season, put together by the excellent NFL Draft guru and analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles for many years before landing with NFL Network.
In Jeremiah’s rankings, Pickens landed at No. 17 overall, good for the fifth-best receiver of the class behind the likes of the Jets’ Garrett Wilson, New Orleans’ Chris Olave, Green Bay’s Christian Watson and Atlanta’s Drake London. Remember, Pickens was the 11th receiver drafted in April.
“The former Georgia standout looks like a future No. 1 wide receiver. He produced his share of wow plays, and he became more consistent as the season wore on,” Jeremiah writes regarding Pickens’ ranking to close the season.
In his rookie year, Pickens finished with 52 receptions for 801 yards and four touchdown, with his longest catch of the season going for 42 yards in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14 at Acrisure Stadium after Pickett left the game with an injury and Mitch Trubisky was inserted into the lineup.
Those 52 receptions came on just 84 targets, with an average of 9.5 yards per target in his rookie season. Though it remained rather puzzling that Pickens simply wasn’t part of the gameplan at times in the passing game, leading to a limited number of targets at times, Pickens certainly showed off some wow moments, like the catch in Week 3 against the Browns, the pair of sideline catches in Week 18 against the Browns, the 15-yard grab against Baltimore in Week 17, and the game-winning touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16.
He looks like a true No. 1 wide receiver and will only get better and better the more comfortable he gets with Pickett.
Speaking of Pickett, the only first-round quarterback of the 2022 NFL Draft came on strong in the second half of the season, throwing just one interception compared to five touchdowns, leading the Steelers to a 7-2 record down the stretch to finish 9-8, avoid a losing season and nearly make the playoffs in a retooling season for the franchise.
Pickett came in at No. 23 overall in Jeremiah’s rankings, finishing as the No. 2 rookie QB in the class behind San Francisco’s Brock Purdy, who landed at No. 7 overall in Jeremiah’s rankings.
Pickett didn’t have much of the flash that really stole attention away from what Purdy did in San Francisco, but he showed time and time again he’s a winner and can make the clutch plays, tying for the NFL record for fourth-quarter comebacks/game-winning drives as a rookie with Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield in 2018 with four.
“Pickett made big plays in big spots to help the Steelers finish the season above .500. His production won’t jump off the page, but he played well and I’m looking forward to seeing how Pittsburgh builds around him,” Jeremiah writes regarding Pickett’s ranking.
He won’t make a ton of plays that jump off the page. He made some big-time throws though, which helped the Steelers win a number of games down the stretch. Now, it’s about building around him and really seeing what this thing can do. He certainly looks the part and has the right mentality. We’ll see where that takes the Steelers in the years to come with Pickett as QB1.