How George Pickens can avoid a sophomore slump

George Pickens Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers
George Pickens Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers / Eakin Howard/GettyImages
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Run-After-Catch & Extra-Yard Creation

Yards-after-catch has never been the strongest aspect of George Pickens’ game. This is not to say he’s bad at it or cannot improve. But given his physical profile, it makes sense this is not his best attribute. Long, gangly receivers like Pickens can struggle to create yards in the open field as they do not have the short-area quickness or smaller receivers, such as Diontae Johnson or Calvin Austin, or the bulk and strength to consistently break tackles, like JuJu Smith-Schuster or Chase Claypool. 

The statistics regarding Pickens’ yard creation ability bear this hypothesis out. Per Pro Football Focus, among receivers with at least 30 targets last year, Pickens finished tied for 112th out of 115 in yards after the catch per reception with 2.1. Per TruMedia, this number falls to 2.0, and Pickens finished 80th out of 80 wide receivers listed. However, he finished tied for 29th in missed tackles forced with 7. 

Again, these numbers are majorly affected by the routes Pickens ran and how he was used. His routes primarily consisted of Go routes, where he was asked to win contested catches down the sideline, not affording him much room to create yards after the catch, and Hitch routes, where multiple defenders could bear down on him after catching a short stopped route. He only earned eight combined targets on Crossers and Slant routes, which are the best for creating yards after the catch. 

Fortunately, Pickens recognized his lack of success in this area and is focused on addressing it. At Organized Team Activities, he mentioned this goal to the media, saying the following: "Me personally, I'm just trying to try and get yards after the catch...if I got an out route, I'm not going out of bounds. I'm going to fight the defender for extra yards. I feel like this year we are going to have an edge."

Ultimately, Pickens will most likely not be a YAC demon who can make multiple defenders miss in the open field like Tyreek Hill. But it's encouraging to see him identify an aspect of his game that needs development and attack it. Given that he finished dead last in 2022, there's nowhere to go but up.