Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens overcame a slow start to his 2022 season by finishing the year with 52 catches for 802 yards, and there’s a lot of buzz about Pickens’ play heading into 2023. The second-year receiver out of Georgia showed off his ridiculous contested catch ability last season, and with another year of development and an expanding offense, there’s hope Pickens can be even better this season. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox named Pickens one of the NFL’s most underrated receiver, and said it would be a “surprise” if Pickens didn’t surpass 1,000 yards in 2023.
“If Pickett can make a second-year leap—which seems reasonable given his strong play down the stretch in 2022—Pickens could be set to explode,” Knox writes. “It would be a surprise if Pickens doesn’t have a 1,000-yard season.”
I fully expect Kenny Pickett to make that second-year leap, and while I argued that Pickens could be Pittsburgh’s leading receiver, I’m not going to be completely shocked if he doesn’t top 1,000 yards. There’s a lot of competition for targets in this Steelers offense, with Allen Robinson II acquired from the Los Angeles Rams this offseason, Calvin Austin III returning to full strength after his missing his rookie season as well as Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth still in the fold.
Just due to the sheer number of options Pickett is going to have and because the team is going to lean on the run game, at least early in the season, there is no guarantee Pickens can put up gaudy yardage totals. Of all the receiving options, I do think he’s the most likely to do so given that he’s already developed a rapport with Pickett on deep balls and he’s a guy Pickett trusts when he takes a shot downfield.
What will show Pickens growth the most this year is how much his route tree expands. Oftentimes last season, he was just sent on a go route and didn’t really operate underneath and didn’t do much of anything with the ball after the catch. If Pickens proves he can become a multi-faceted receiver, that’s what I’d be happy with if I was the Steelers. That also increases his odds of becoming a 1,000-yard receiver as well because it allows him to get more work all over the field and not just on deep balls.
Frankly, that’s what I expect to happen, and I think Pickens will hit over 1,000 yards. I just wouldn’t be totally shocked if that wasn’t the case just due to the dynamic of Pittsburgh’s options and the amount of options for targets in the offense. But I’m definitely excited to see him work in 2023 and see if he can take the next step on his way to becoming a great receiver.