UNITY TWP., Pa. — Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark was at the team’s training camp practice last week, chatting it up with his former head coach Mike Tomlin and getting to know this version of the team for his role as an ESPN analyst.
Tuesday, Clark made some headlines when he said on NFL Live that he believes Steelers wide receiver George Pickens has more talent than Minnesota Vikings All-Pro Justin Jefferson.
Saying that a second-year receiver that didn’t even have 1,000 yards last year is more talented than the current NFL standard-bearer at the position is certainly controversial. But Clark got some support Wednesday in the form of someone who might be considered an expert on the subject.
Current Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson spent the last two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, practicing agains Jefferson. Now, he’s been facing Pickens every day for the last month.
And while he made sure to point out the difference between the players, he tends to agree with Clark’s sentiment.
“I definitely can see it,” Peterson said. “GP is very, very raw. He’s very unpredictable when the ball is coming his way in terms of catching ability. On my podcast, All Things Covered, the other day, I called his hands magnets, because if the ball is coming near them, he finds a way to come down with the catch.
“Justin is a savant of the position. He’s really, really in tuned in how to manipulate the defensive back and how to set his routes up. He’s going into year four. GP is going into year two. There’s still some things that he wants to get better at.”
That advantage in the mental aspect of the game and the level of experience in facing NFL cornerbacks is clearly what makes Jefferson so good. He led the NFL with 1,809 yards in 2022. Only three receivers had more than 1,500 yards.
But there’s a difference between productivity and talent, and while one doesn’t always necessarily lead to the other, the pure athletic profile of Pickens is tantalizing for Peterson to think about.
“In talent? I kinda have to agree with Ryan,” he said.