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Steelers All 90: Expanding Route Tree Key for George Pickens in Year 2



Steelers WR George Pickens

The Pittsburgh Steelers thought that they got a “steal” last offseason 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.

Yes, Pickens was coming off of a major ACL injury that he suffered prior to his junior season at Georgia but the young wide receiver showed his ability to recover quickly and appeared in five games for the Bulldogs last season.

Pickens started slowly in Pittsburgh due to limited snaps and mediocre quarterback play from Mitch Trubisky.

Through the first three weeks of the season, Pickens was targeted just 13 times. In Week 4, the Kenny Pickett era started and Pickens production picked up from that point onward. Pickens was targeted eight times and recorded his first career 100-yard game in that Week 4 matchup with the New York Jets.

By the end of the season, Pickens scored a game-winning touchdown in primetime and made multiple absurd catches that gained national attention.

According to Pickens himself, he feels as if he was robbed of some awards for his play. Pickens followed that up with big-time expectations that he set up for himself and the team for the 2023 season.

“Year two goals are Pro Bowl, and I feel like last year I feel like I got snubbed, because there wasn’t a lot of guys in there at the Pro Bowl that excited me,” Pickens said. “Then, [I want to go to] the Super Bowl. The two bowls. A lot of RAC, run after catch. Two bowls for sure.”

Players are expected to take a huge leap in between years one and two of their NFL career and Pickens is doing the little things this offseason to not only improve for himself but to be a better receiver for his quarterback, who is also entering his second professional season.

In year one, Pickens ran 221 go routes, which led the NFL, but if he wants to be a top-tier receiver in the league then he will need to incorporate other routes into his tree.

“I went to work this offseason on the little things in my routes,” Pickens said. “You know, I want to get over 1,000 yards this year. I want to be an even better target for Kenny. I feel like it’s time to step that next step. That’s it.”

A metric that Pickens excelled in during his first season as a member of the Steelers was CROE, or catch rate over expected, as he ranked second in the entire league. Pickens caught around 11% more passes than he was expected to based on the difficulty of the play in 2022. This meant that if the throw was a 50/50 ball, then Pickens was coming down with the catch more times than not.

With fellow wide reciever Diontae Johnson’s contract becoming cheaper to void after this season, Pickens may be catapulted into the team’s top wide receiver by next season at the earliest. If Pickens can keep his sure-fire hands and mix in other routes into his game, the 22-year-old has no ceiling in how great he can become.

14 • George Pickens, Wide Receiver, Georgia
6-foot-3, 201 pounds, 22 years old, 2nd Season

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

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 George Pickens

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens, right, in action against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry, left, during the NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

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.

Year GP Receptions Yards AVG TDs
2022 17 52 801 15.4 4

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 last year. The 22-year-old is entering the second year of the deal which will pay him $1.01 million in base salary and another $522,670 in bonus money. Pickens will cost the Steelers $1.53 million in cap space in 2023. Pickens is under contract with the team through the end of the 2025 season.

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