Another year has come and gone, with another draft on the horizon. It’s the perfect time to take a step back and reflect on the year that was, especially with respect to the most recent draft class. The Pittsburgh Steelers made seven selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, one in each round except for the fifth (zero) and the seventh (two).
The top of the draft marked one of the most momentous decisions in decades, as they used their first-round pick on the quarterback they hope will be the long-term successor to the retired Ben Roethlisberger. And they used much of the rest of the draft to find him weapons, marking the second year in a row they used each of their top two picks on offense.
Only two defenders were drafted, including a defensive lineman in the third round, the first time they have taken a lineman on that side of the ball earlier than the fifth round since Javon Hargrave in 2016. They also added an inside linebacker in the seventh round, who is the only holdover at the position from last season.
Over the next week, we will be looking at each of these players one by one and examining how their rookie season went and what we can expect from the moving forward, both during the 2023 season and potentially for the long term. But we’ll discuss each briefly below.
Player: George Pickens
Draft Status: Second Round (52nd overall)
Starts: 12 (17 games)
George Pickens played in at least 63 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps in every game of his rookie season. Only twice did his percentage dip below 70. His snap percentage was in the 80s in five games, as well, logging more than 60 snaps in a game on multiple occasions.
That still netted him only 84 targets on the season, the second-fewest in the league among all wide receivers last season with at least 800 offensive snaps played. Indeed, it was the 10th-fewest even among wide receivers with only 700 offensive snaps.
That is one of the key takeaways from Pickens’ rookie season, the fact that he had relatively few opportunities. But assigning “blame” for that is not as easy. While he could have been targeted more frequently, it is equally true that he often struggled to get open, and every quarterback in the league prefers open targets.
Yet we can’t discuss Pickens without also talking about his success in contested catches. Indeed, nobody came down with a higher percentage of catches on contested targets than he did last season. He also had among the most contested catches last season even though many players had far more contested targets.
Pickens is never going to be an elite, nuanced route runner, at least I’m not prepared to predict it. That means the Steelers are simply going to have to trust in him more often and give him the opportunity to make more plays. It’s not just what the fans want them to do, it’s what they need to do for the offense to take another step forward.