Last season, George Pickens made a name for himself on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite being the 52nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Pickens would struggle to hold onto a starting spot in the Steelers’ lineup.
He would begin the year starting in Pittsburgh’s first game of the year against the Cincinnati Bengals where he would have a disappointing debut, finishing the contest with one catch for three yards off of three targets. After this slow start, he would be benched until week four.
Pickens would be in and out of the starting lineup until week 12. Although the season would have its ups and downs, Pickens would still finish his rookie campaign with a respectable 52 receptions for 801 yards and four touchdowns.
With the departure of Ben Roethlisberger after the 2021 season, it was clear that there would be some growing pains for the Steelers in 2022. Their offensive line greatly struggled, and as a result of this, running back Najee Harris had a hard time getting things going on the ground. With the rushing attack and the offensive line play being unreliable at times throughout the season, life was not easy for fellow rookie Kenny Pickett at the quarterback position.
With Pickens being one of the most talented deep threats in the league, the lackluster offensive line play made it almost impossible for Pickett to find Pickens deep down the field. Despite this, Pickens would make the most of his targets and finish his rookie season as one of the best pass catchers in the league.
He would finish second in the league in the catch rate over the expected metric, finishing only behind Richie James. Pickens was the only player in the NFL that ran over 200 vertical routes last season. The average CROE on these routes throughout the league was -0.1%, for comparison, Pickens would have a CROE of +23.3% on the same route.
With the Steelers making some major additions to their offensive line over the offseason, this could mean big things for Pickens in the 2023 season. With one year in the NFL under his belt, he is much more experienced and knows what works and what does not in the pros. This will lead to his routes being much crisper, and it may be even easier for him to get open next season.
As Pickett will have more time to sit in the pocket and let plays develop, Pickens could break out as the clear top deep ball receiver in the NFL. Last season, he made a name for himself for being able to make extremely tough and contested catches. With Pickett likely being able to get him the ball more frequently in 2023, Pickens could have a huge year in 2023 and establish himself as one of the most promising young wide receivers in the league.
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