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Expanded Offense Will Lead to George Pickens Breakout in 2024

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Steelers George Pickens

The Pittsburgh Steelers thought that they got a “steal” when the team drafted George Pickens in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Pickens was the 11th wide receiver taken in the entire draft and his slide was mainly due to injury concerns. Now, two seasons in, Pickens has played in every game for the Steelers and is on the brink of superstardom.

“Every year, like I kind of say, every year I want to be the greatest,” Pickens told reporters. “But, all I can do is just to keep working.”

Pickens is not the only guy in the building that believes in the Georgia product’s abilities. Earlier this week, new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said that everything is there for the taking for Pickens. Pickens returned the favor and spoke about the energy that Azzanni has brought to the room since his arrival.

“Pretty much the same [stuff],” Pickens said. “Because as a receiver, it really does not change that much but just his energy. Somebody’s energy can be totally different and so he is bringing a lot of energy to the room.”

For Pickens to take that next leap, the offense around him must perform at a higher level than in seasons past. Pickens believes that it will and that under Arthur Smith’s lead, the offense will open up and take-off in 2024.

“I wouldn’t just say for me but I would say for everybody, for the team” Pickens explained. “The offense is going to open up. It is going to be a more productive [offense] for sure.”

Within the new offense, Pickens role is changing but in a positive way. In his first two seasons, Pickens played a majority of his snaps as an outside receiver, but with the new gadgets that were added to the offense, Pickens will be featured in an expanded role.

“With certain teams and certain [defensive backs,] just the guys we got, with the variety we got with the speed and stuff like that,” Pickens said. “It will be very nice to have a lot of speed on the field, lot of different plays, me in the slot. Just a different offense.”

Pickens played in the slot at Georgia but not as much as a pro. He is excited for the new opportunity and sees it as the team putting him into the best position possible.

“I’m a total receiver, I like working in the slot just as much as I like working as an outside receiver,” Pickens said. “It puts me on linebackers, put me on safeties.”

Pickens already posted great numbers when facing a majority of double teams so imagine what it will look like when he is getting matched up on linebackers and slower safeties.

While many people expect Pickens to light it up in 2024, his ceiling is based on the quarterback play. With a much more experienced starter in Russell Wilson, and one that likes to take shots down the field, it should not shock people if Pickens finishes as a top-10 wide receiver in 2024.

14 • George Pickens, Wide Receiver, Georgia
6-foot-3, 200 pounds, 23 years old, 3rd Season

Acquired: The Steelers drafted Pickens with the 52nd overall pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Last SeasonLast season was a step in the right direction for Pickens as he stayed healthy and upped his production. Despite the up-and-down quarterback play, Pickens managed to record his first career 1,000 yard season and led the entire NFL in receiving yards per catch (18.1) for all receivers with at least 50  catches.

In total, Pickens played all 17 games for the Steelers and caught 63 of his 104 targets for 1,140 yards and five touchdowns. Pickens finished the season with five 100-yard receiving games including his monster four-catch, 195-yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16. In that game, Pickens hauled in two touchdowns as well.

In the team’s AFC Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills, Pickens fumbled on his first reception. In that game, he finished with five catches for 50 yards.

Steelers George Pickens

Steelers wide receiver George Pickens hurdles a Cleveland Browns defender, Nov. 19, 2023. – Ed Thompson // Steelers Now

Career: Pickens started the season slow as he was only targeted 13 times in the first three games. He caught five passes for 65 yards and no touchdowns in that opening stretch of games but made a one-handed catch against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 that may have got him going for the season.

The next week against the New York Jets, Pickens was targeted eight times and caught six passes for 102 yards. This was the first 100-yard game in Pickens NFL career. He followed it by catching another six passes for 83 yards in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills.

Pickens most impactful play of the season was a game-winning touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 16. This happened to be the coldest game in Acrisure Stadium history.

Pickens scored his first receiving touchdown in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins and first rushing touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in Week 10. Pickens finished the season with 52 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns.

Steelers WR George Pickens

Steelers WR George Pickens against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 23, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Pickens was a rookie in the 2022 season and played in all 17 games while starting 12 of them. He caught 52 passes for 801 yards and four touchdowns. Pickens led the Steelers in touchdown receptions while having the second most catches behind fellow wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

Over his first two NFL seasons, Pickens has appeared in all 34 regular season games for the Steelers. It total, Pickens hauled in 115 passes for 1,941 yards and nine touchdowns.

Year GP Receptions Yards AVG TDs
2022 17 52 801 15.4 4
2023 17 63 1,140 18.1 5

College: Pickens arrived in Athens in 2019 and played in 12 games as a freshman at Georgia. He finished his 2019 season with 49 receptions, 727 yards and eight touchdowns. Pickens led the team in each of those categories during his freshman year.

During a COVID-shortened 2020 season, Pickens caught 36 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns. Pickens led the team in touchdowns for the second consecutive season during the 8-game season.

Before Pickens junior season as a Bulldog, he tore his ACL which resulted in him missing a majority of the 2021 season. Pickens magically returned for the team’s final four games but caught only 5 passes for 107 yards and no touchdowns. The play of his final season in college was a clutch 52-yard reception in Georgia’s national title victory against Alabama.

Pickens declared for the 2022 NFL draft following a shortened junior season but was still held in high regard entering the process.

Year GP Receptions Yards TDs
2019 12 49 727 8
2020 8 36 513 6
2021 4 5 107 0

Salary cap and future: Pickens signed a four-year rookie contract with the Steelers in 2022. The 23-year-old is entering the third year of the deal which will pay him $1.32 million in base salary and another $522,670 in bonus money. Pickens will cost the Steelers $1.84 million in cap space in 2024. Pickens is under contract with the team through the end of the 2025 season.

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