PITTSBURGH — Welcome to the George Pickens show. The second-year Steelers wide receiver had a chance to make a significant statement on Monday night against the Browns. Against one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL, Pickens, without his sidekick Diontae Johnson, could prove all the hype was real. And it appears he is starting to back that up. He described himself as the best receiver in the NFL during training camp, and he wants to back that up.
Before the game, I asked myself what I thought George Pickens would do in this game. I didn’t know. The hype train is moving fast, and I am fully on it. Pickens looks like an alien in practice at each step in the road and has made some insane plays in games, too. The walking highlight reel can do more than make contested catches, though, it appears. His 71-yard touchdown hit another gear that I’m not sure I knew he had in him. That extra gear powered him all day. Pickens won over the middle of the field in a way I have not seen him do in his career. He is seeing zone coverages better and finding soft spots. On his touchdown, he recognized immediately what he saw.
“It looked like they played Cover 2 invert,” Pickens said. “That left the middle of the field open. That’s where I went with my route. I just struck.”
He could have had more; those ten targets represent a few missed opportunities. On the other hand, many of those targets are just some of Pickett’s throwaways. But Pickett proved on Monday that he could hang with an elite secondary and still produce even without Diontae Johnson across from him. Check that box for him. If Pickens wants to prove he is a top receiver, he started to show just that on Monday.
For Pickens, it is about the growth of becoming a better all-around wide receiver. Pickens is still growing as a player, but he has the baseline of an elite trait, his ball skills, to work off. Now, if he can add the YAC skills and become a significant play threat over the middle of the field, he suddenly goes from someone who makes those highlight reel grabs to someone defenses have to worry about at all three levels of the field in all areas of the field.
From here on, George Pickens must continue proving he can play at a high level. He has softer matchups on tap that should see him get even more opportunities to run the stat sheet up. With his explosive efficiency, Pickens can not only solve some of the offensive woes Pittsburgh has but be another weapon to rely on even when Diontae Johnson returns.