Year Two for NFL wide receivers is an important one. The playbook is learned, the growing pains have gone away a little bit, and hopefully, a rapport has begun to develop with their quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers, in particular, have seen breakout seasons from wide receivers in year two such as Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Antonio Brown.
As former second-round George Pickens moves into year two, expectations are suddenly quite high. Despite being the 11th receiver taken in last year’s draft, Pickens ranked fourth among rookies in both receiving yards and receptions. He enters this season no longer as an unproven prospect but as someone who has shown he can hang in the league.
Luckily for Pickens, the Steelers traded for veteran receiver Allen Robinson II this offseason, and the two have quickly begun to develop a mentor-mentee rapport.
“We always talking ball. When I talk to Allen it’s always about football,” Pickens told reporters in audio provided by the team. “[he’s helped me with] the ins and outs, just the different ways of the game, different coverages… how to attack it, whether a guy is in man or trailing you, that’s the type of stuff I ask Allen about.”
Robinson can attest to just how important this sophomore campaign is for Pickens. As a mid-Day Two pick in the draft himself, Robinson posted solid but not spectacular numbers in his rookie season. However, in Year Two, he posted a whopping 1,400 yards and even led the NFL in touchdown catches with 14. The then 22-year-old was even selected to the Pro Bowl that season.
While some may view Robinson as over the hill, his value isn’t just as a mentor. Robinson isn’t as far removed from elite play as some may think. He posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears in 2019 and 2020, catching passes from none other than current Steelers backup Mitch Trubisky. He had a down year in 2021 before heading to the Rams for the 2022 season. Struggles plagued him again last season, with many pointing out how little Matthew Stafford was looking to get him the ball. He’ll look to bounce back for the Steelers this season, in a fairly low-pressure environment. He will likely serve as the team’s slot receiver, playing the same big slot role that both Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool have played for the Steelers.
Pickens hopefully has one thing that Robinson struggled to find during his career: stability at the quarterback position. While it’d be unfair to call this a make-or-break season for the young Pickens, it is a very important one. If he’s going to be elite someday, we will likely see it on the field this year.