For Ben Roethlisberger, he enjoyed a long NFL career and played with hundreds of teammates. For Kenny Pickett, he watched a chunk of that career, right next door at Pitt’s facility. For his five college years, could catch glimpses of football at its highest level every day.
In a fun fan question poised to each on Roethlisberger’s latest Footbahlin podcast, of which Pickett was this week’s guest, they were asked to name one Steeler they wish they could’ve played with. For Pickett, his answer was pretty immediate: Antonio Brown.
“I’m going to go with AB,” Pickett said. “I got to watch him at practice and went, that guy’s different. He’s a special, special player. Watched him growing up and then getting a chance to see him practice, I’m going with AB.”
For all his warts off the field, there was no question about the type of receiver Brown was. The greatest of his era and one of the greatest to ever play the position, Brown didn’t have the natural skill of some receivers but honed his craft, got faster and stronger, and became one of the most technical receivers in the league. Superb route-running, amazing body control, and routinely the most dangerous player on the field. His greatness was rooted in his work ethic that others tried to emulate. If Brown caught hundreds of passes on the JUGs machine after practice, you better believe that was a line of players behind him waiting to do the same.
Roethlisberger’s choices are far more narrow and his answer was pretty obvious: George Pickens.
“I watched him at practice. For a big guy to drop his weight. Just seems like an absolute freak of talent,” Roethlisberger said. “Great hands, high points balls, plays like a little guy but he’s a big-body guy…I don’t know him at all, met him once, said hello, he seemed really nice.”
Pickens would’ve been Roethlisberger’s type of receiver; Big Ben always liked the big and tall “go get it types.” He’s a dominant vertical receiver developing his skill set and route tree, something he worked on later in his rookie season. He’s the rare receiver who can hang his hat on winning contested catches, fighting for jump balls even if he doesn’t generate much separation.
For Roethlisberger, Pickens is the best choice. He did mention Pat Freiermuth, though the two spent a year together, and it’s clear Roethlisberger wishes Freiermuth would’ve come into the league right after Heath Miller retired.
As he finished his answer, he gave a word of caution to Pickens for 2023.
“I hope that he’s able to keep the attitude in check. Everyone wants to be great, everyone wants the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “But sometimes the great ones were able to put into the right place. Catching and being a good teammate.”
Those comments stem from Pickens’ sideline outbursts last year when he wasn’t getting the football in Pittsburgh’s run-heavy offense. Most notably was his sideline moment against the Atlanta Falcons, venting his frustration throughout the game.
While there’s a line to walk, there’s plenty of receivers who do the same. Brown was a habitual offender to the point where the offense made it a point to get him the ball early just to avoid any frustration from boiling over (though sometimes, it still did).
Beyond that, Roethlisberger noted that teams will do their homework on Pickett and Pickens this year.
“It’s going to be a challenge for both you guys going into your second year,” he said. “You’re not sneaking up on anybody. He’s not going to sneak up on anybody. So it’s going to be a challenge for both of you. Defensive coordinators now know you. Know you can move.”
Both players will look to build upon how they finished after the Steelers’ 2022 bye week. Pickett had more game-winning drives than interceptions while Pickens’ role expanded, finding the end zone in two of his final three games, including that game-winner against Las Vegas.