Jump Ball Machine: George Pickens Leads All Rookies In Contested Catches In 2022

Pittsburgh Steelers WR George Pickens had himself a promising first season in the Black and Gold. He finished the season catching 52 passes on 84 targets for 801 yards (15.4 YPR) and four TDs while chipping in three carries for 24 yards and another score. The former second-round pick out of the University of Georgia usurped former Steelers WR Chase Claypool on the depth chart, making him expendable via a trade to the Chicago Bears at the trade deadline which netted Pittsburgh a valuable draft pick at the top of the second-round in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Steelers couldn’t refuse such a return for Claypool, but also felt confident in what Pickens brought to the table for the remainder of the 2022 season and beyond. In many ways, Pickens embodies what Pittsburgh hoped they were getting when they drafted Claypool back in 2020 as a big-bodied deep threat that can stretch the field vertically as well as win contested catches on possession downs and in the red zone.

And boy… did George Pickens deliver in that aspect of his game this season.

Pickens finished third in the NFL with 19 contested catches according to Pro Football Focus, behind only Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings who finished with 22 and D.K. Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks who finished with 20. Pickens finished as the top rookie in contested catches on the season, outpacing Drake London of the Falcons and Garrett Wilson of Jets who both finished with 14. Pickens converted 19-of-28 contested catch attempts according to PFF (67.9%). In fact, among wide receivers with a sample size greater than 70+ targets this year, George Pickens finished first in contested catch percentage in the regular season.

Alex Kozora presented the talking point earlier in the season that Pickens may already be one of the league’s best contested-catch receivers already in his first NFL season. Well, the stats back it up as Pickens has time-and-again delivered highlight-reel grabs in combative situations where he bullies his opposition for the football. Josh Carney of Steelers Depot recently highlighted the fact that Pickens is one of the league’s best downfield threats, ranking eighth in the NFL in yards per reception while fairing favorably in total explosive plays accounted for in the passing game.

Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Steelers have done it yet again, stealing Pickens in the second round as a player that appears to be a budding star in the league. He needs to continue improving as a route runner and consistently generate better separation at the top of his routes, but Pickens’ contested catch ability and body control make him open even when he looks covered. The growth and development of fellow rookie QB Kenny Pickett will be a key factor in how much Pickens can progress from Year One to Year Two but seeing as both will be another year older and have more chemistry with one another, surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in 2023 should be well within Pickens’ reach.

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