With the NFL season now officially over, it is time to look towards next season. And while it is way too early to know too much of what will happen in the 2023 NFL season, it doesn’t hurt to make predictions. Today, a slew of ESPN analysts came out with an article which has a laundry list of predictions, including the league’s 2023 breakout player.
While the players picked ranged from every team in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens found himself as Matt Bowen’s pick for breakout player.
“Pickens has all the traits of a boundary receiver who can be isolated to win with his frame, ball skills and three-level ability,” Bowen wrote. “Given another year of development and with quarterback Kenny Pickett, Pickens should play a difference-making role in ’23. He had 801 receiving yards in his rookie campaign.”
Pickens, a rookie this past season, quickly became a fan favorite due to his insane catch radius, contested catch ability, and willingness to block. It also helped that he played pretty darn well his rookie season as well. Pickens finished the season with 52 receptions for 801 yards, and four touchdowns.
For Pickens to become a breakout player next season, he will need to get those touchdown numbers up, but that isn’t all on him. The Steelers offense was poor last season averaging only 18.1 points per game, 26th best in the NFL. The team’s lack of explosive plays hurt, and add on their red zone struggles, it made scoring difficult. In fact, quarterback Kenny Pickett did not have a game of more than one passing touchdown all season.
The Steelers offense needs to get better next season, simply put they have the talent, they just need better play calling and quarterback play. Pickett will need to be better in the red zone and the offense will need to be more explosive.
Another aspect that could help Pickens is if his routes diversify. This past season, Pickens ran a lot of go routes and routes to the sideline. If he improves his route running ability and offensive coordinator Matt Canada draws up more routes in the middle of the field, it is possible we see an improvement in production for Pickens.
Pickens certainly has the traits to become an elite receiver, and it likely is only a matter of time before he truly breaks out. However, while he certainly has areas to improve, he can’t do it all on his own. He needs better quarterback play and an expanded route tree if he is truly to be in the upper echelon of wide receivers.
It will be fun to look back at this take at the end of next season. If Pickens does breakout, it is more than likely Pickett also improved a lot. A Pickens breakout season isn’t much of a hot take, but a breakout season for him probably means the Steelers had a good season.