After just one season in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers WR George Pickens looks like a superstar in the making.
The Steelers got a big-time steal in the University of Georgia product, selecting him in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft to complement their first-round pick, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. Pickens was widely considered the top WR prospect prior to the start of the 2021 college football season, but an ACL tear in spring ball as well as rumors about his character caused him to slip out of Day One altogether and right into Pittsburgh’s lap at #52 overall.
Pickett jumped on The Pivot Podcast which aired lived Tuesday morning from the show’s YouTube channel, talking to former Steelers safety Ryan Clark as well as Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor about his rookie season and the team’s preparations for 2023. Clark mentioned to Pickett that Pickens should have been a first-round pick and asked him about what his thoughts are on the Pickett-to-Pickens connection for the future.
“Like you said, he’s shown how athletically gifted he is,” Pickett said on The Pivot Podcast. “But what I saw today just kind of working his routes, he wants to become a route runner and he wants to have all those routes in his arsenal where it’s not just one or two routes where guys really have to worry about.”
Pickens took the world by storm in 2022, playing in all 17 games despite coming off the knee injury a year prior and catching 52 passes on 84 targets for 801 yards (15.4 YPR) and four TDs while chipping in three carries for 24 yards and a TD on the ground. Pickens proved to be a walking highlight reel, making absurd catches look routine as he would rise above defenders and contort his body to make acrobatic catches in the red zone as well as down the field.
Still, one thing that we spoke heavily on Pickens throughout his rookie year and even during the pre-draft process was his need to become a more nuanced route runner, as he often relied on his sheer athletic talent to win combative catches rather than generating separation from coverage. Well, it appears as if Pickens has had the same thing said to him by the coaching staff following the 2022 campaign, and Pickett is already noticing the work Pickens is putting in to refine his craft in the attempt to become a more well-rounded receiver in 2023.
Working with one of the league’s best route runners in Diontae Johnson on a daily basis can’t hurt. Learning from newly acquired WR Allen Robinson II, who is a good route runner for a bigger receiver, could also prove to be a benefit for Pickens. He’ll get to pick the brain of a pass catcher who wins in similar ways, using his body to win contested catches, but also the movement skills and release packages to generate separation at the LOS. If Pickens would study Robinson’s game and pick his brain on his release packages and his ability to drop his weight at the top of routes, it would go a long way for Pickens to realize his immense potential.
While Pittsburgh has plenty of viable pass catchers and the passing game may not have a ton of volume compared to years past, a step forward as a route runner could be the catalyst for Pickens to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore in 2023.