In 1967 the offensive rookie of the year award was first handed out. In that span, only three Pittsburgh Steelers have won the prestigious award.
Only three Steeler rookies have gone on to win offensive rookie of the year and they were Franco Harris in 1972, Louis Lipps in 1984, and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Given that it’s been nearly two decades since Big Ben won the award, a Steelers player is due to win the award again.
Of all of this year’s rookie class for the Steelers, Conner Heyward seems unlikely to rise to the occasion. With Kenny Pickett starting the season on the bench, the Steelers would need a similar situation as 2004 with Kenny Pickett coming off the bench to replace Mitch Trubisky. However, It seems unlikely that history will repeat the 2004 Big Ben scenario.
Calvin Austin could be a candidate to win the award, but being on the injured reserve list for the first five weeks does not exactly help his cause. George Pickens could potentially make a case for himself before the season ends.
Could Steelers George Pickens win the rookie of the year award?
Admittedly, putting George Pickens in the offensive ROTY category before the season starts is a bit presumptive, considering the season has not begun. Nonetheless, it’s not every season that the Steelers draft a wide receiver that has the potential to impact the team starting week one.
Players like Hines Ward and Antonio Brown both sat on the bench before working their way up to number one receivers. Yet Pickens, based upon watching his game film from college and his preseason highlights, shows he has the potential to make some amazing plays before the season ends.
He could have the same impact on the Steelers in 2022 that Swann and Stallworth had in 1974, or Louis Lipps had in 1984. So if he performs as expected and keeps doing what he did in the preseason, it’s not beyond the pale to imagine Pickens being in the offensive ROTY conversation.
Why Pickens could win offensive ROTY
Actually, the question should be what’s not to like about Pickens. The fact Pickens fell to the Steelers was amazing in itself. When they announced the Steelers number two draft pick and uttered the name George Pickens, it was one of those moments where fans asked how was Pickens still on the draft board.
When you reviewed enough NFL mock drafts, it was noticeable that Pickens had a decent chance of going off the board in the first round, but everyone passed on him. Mainly, teams had jitters that his torn ACL could be a liability. After the first three preseason games, you would have to say Pickens had a torn ACL, really? From his performance, if no one had mentioned it, you wouldn’t have noticed.
After watching his performance in the three preseason games and looking at the way he played, several things were noticeable. First, you clearly saw the physicality they said Pickens possessed while in college when he pancaked a defensive player at the line of scrimmage. The defensive backs will not bully him on the field, that’s for sure.
Secondly, you noticed his ability to get enough separation by using his size to get above defenders to snag receptions, as evident with his touchdown in the corner of the endzone. If anyone asked to compare him to any previous Steelers receiver, Hines Ward comes to mind as they are very similar in their level of physicality.
Sure, for now, Diontae Johnson is the number one receiver. However, there is no reason not to believe that if Pickens plays as he did in the preseason, his value will only increase, and he could conceivably hit Antonio Brown-level receiving yards at some point. Sure, this may be bright-eyed enthusiasm, and it’s way too early to make predictions like this. Nonetheless, it’s obvious Pickens could have a huge ceiling concerning his overall potential. So while saying Pickens could contend for Offensive ROTY could be premature, don’t be surprised if his name happens to come up in the conversation at the end of the year.
What Could Hinder Pickens
While his potential is undeniable, things could still hamper his offensive potential. First, the offensive line still has problems, and if they fail in protecting the Steelers quarterbacks, it could put a damper on the Steelers receiving corps from achieving their full capability.
Secondly, while Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett both looked sharp in the preseason, there is no guarantee either will produce as fruitfully in the regular season. If it occurs, receivers could underperform, but if the quarterbacks do succeed, Steelers fans could be in for a treat watching the Steelers receivers this fall.
The last thing which could hinder Pickens from achieving his potential is the one no one has any real control over. An unfortunate tackle or a low block could re-injure his knee, reaggravating his already damaged ACL. It would be disappointing if it occurred, but the threat is always there on every snap that Pickens plays
So Pickens winning the offensive ROTY could seem far-fetched talking about it before the Steelers play the first week of the season. However, based on what we have seen and knowing his potential this concept is not an impossibility either. Pickens could potentially be the most gifted wide receiver they have drafted since Antonio Brown, and he will have every opportunity to prove it. Thus fans could have much to anticipate as the Steelers take the field on September 11th.