The Pittsburgh Steelers had an inconsistent group of wide receivers, but George Pickens was a dazzling bright spot during his rookie campaign.
Pittsburgh’s passing had a really hard time getting off the ground this season. After beginning the season with QB Mitch Trubisky at the helm, many thought the six-year veteran would have a pretty smooth transition back into a starting role throwing to players like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth. However, Pittsburgh was one of the worst passing teams in the first half of the season.
Down the stretch, the passing game did improve some, but inconsistencies plagued Pittsburgh’s pass-catchers. However, there was one lone bright slot this year who offers tremendous hope for the future of the Steelers offense: rookie WR George Pickens.
Nearly every metric and statistic proved that Pickens was the receiver on the team worth targeting the most. He led the Steelers in yards per target this season. His 9.5 yards per target was substantially better than Diontae Johnson’s — who somehow earned 147 targets to Pickens’ 84, per ESPN stats.
Pickens wasn’t only efficient in comparison to other players on the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was also one of the more efficient receivers in the league with each look he earned. Pickens’ 9.5 yards per target ranked 13th in the NFL — ahead of some pretty impressive names.
Much of this has to do with where Pickens was targeted on the field, but this wouldn’t have been the case if he wasn’t so good in contested catch situations.
In addition to ranking inside the top 15 in yards per target in the league, Pickens also had a remarkable passer rating of 109.3 when thrown to during his rookie season, as he managed 15.4 yards per reception and 4 touchdowns without allowing an interception to be thrown in his direction.
On the other hand, Diontae Johnson didn’t catch a single touchdown despite finishing with the 7th-most targets in the NFL. Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett also combined to throw 6 interceptions when targeting him in 2022.
Steelers have a star in the making in George Pickens
There are still a lot of things that George Pickens needs to work on. He needs to do a better job of selling his routes and exploding out of his breaks, and there were times when he was a little inconsistent. These minor flaws should be expected of any 21-year-old receiver. However, the upside is tremendous.
While Pickens may never develop into a great route runner by NFL standards, he has an elite niche: his ability to dominate at the catch point. Pickens could very well join rare company as one of the best contested-catch receivers we have seen in the past decade, as he already seems to resemble players like DeAndre Hopkins and Dez Bryant at this part of his game.
Obviously, the Pittsburgh Steelers could still use a lot of help in the passing game. Outside of Pickens and Pat Freiermuth, there wasn’t another pass-catcher on the team they could rely on this year.
If they can make some adjustments and add a bit more talent to their WR room, this could change in a hurry. What’s so encouraging though is knowing that the Steelers have a cornerstone player like Pickens they can build around.