The Pittsburgh Steelers have established a reputation as one of the best organizations in the NFL at finding and developing young wide receivers. In recent years, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Chase Claypool number among their best finds.
Granted, there have been a few relative misses (Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, James Washington), and others moved on to different teams (Bryant, Smith-Schuster, Claypool). But the Steelers still have one of the better track records at the position, especially given how they have drafted many different types of receivers.
Regardless, many of those receivers and even more typically hit a wall in their productivity, whether during their rookie season or their second one, hitting the infamous sophomore slump. One player who could be approaching this point is George Pickens, Pittsburgh’s second-round pick from last year, who finished the 2022 season on a tear of success. In the final five games of his rookie year, Pickens caught 15 of 22 targets for 289 yards and 2 touchdowns. He didn’t drop any passes and converted 6 of 8 contested catch opportunities.
With Kenny Pickett entering his first year as the undisputed starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pickens should take on a more prominent role in the offense. Diontae Johnson will still be the primary target earner, Pat Freiermuth is clearly one of Pickett’s favorite receivers, and Allen Robinson could be very useful in the slot. But Pickens is the big-play threat, using his impressive frame and ball skills to make difficult catches on the outside or over the middle.
So how can George Pickens avoid the sophomore slump? First, he needs to continue developing as a route-runner to create more separation from a more diverse route tree. Second, he needs to clean up the concentration drops. Third, he could stand to work on his run-after-catch skills. Finally, Pickens needs to keep his head on straight and continue to work on becoming the best football player he can be.