George Pickens, a first-round talent, but then, questions about his character, and a season-ending ACL injury in his senior year, caused him to slip down the draft board. Selected in the second round, 52nd overall in the 2022 NFL draft. George Pickens is a polarizing player known for his big-time plays and contested catches. It is rare for a week to go by without seeing one of those highlight reel grabs. Pickens, is a real boom-or-bust player who has the fantasy community split over his future outlook. It is hard not to be captivated by the allure of these big-time plays. Coming off a nice rookie season, in which he hauled in 52 receptions for 801 yards, and 4 touchdowns on 85 targets. On the surface, these are impressive stats for a rookie, especially when you take into account that he finished ahead of fellow teammate, and target hog Diontae Johnson in PPR scoring last year. A second-year wide receiver with his dynasty value climbing this offseason, is this rise in value merited? Let’s dive in.
Reasons to Buy
Going Balls Deep
Pickens is your typical old-school traditional split-end X receiver, he’s big, strong, fast, has great body control, and has a mammoth catch radius. I can see why people are so captivated by George Pickens. Pickens is a maestro of catching deep balls. Ranked 7th in the NFL last year with 28 deep routes, one in every 3 balls thrown to Pickens was considered a deep target. Pickens’ Average Depth of Target (aDOT) was a head-turning 15.6, ranking only behind two similar profiling receivers, Deebo Samuel and A.J Brown. Not the worst company to be in. To add to this, Pickens was a contested catch guru ranking 13th in contested catch rate (57.1%). You’d be hard-pressed to find a football enthusiast who hasn’t seen one of his weekly highlight reel catches on Sportscenter.
Last year, only Garrett Wilson ran more routes as a rookie than George Pickens. Pickens finished the year with 94% route participation, which was good for a top 16-finish league-wide. His 74% snap share was another great number for a rookie. If Pickens can get himself open in the short and intermediate routes more often, the numbers would suggest a season 2 breakout. In addition, Kenny Pickett is heading into his 2nd year and will come into 2023 with more confidence, Hopefully, that can turn into improved chemistry between Pickens and Pickett. Pickett was his most accurate when targeting Pickens with a QB rating of 109.3 vs. 54.8 when targeting Diontae Johnson. Pickens consistently was the more efficient weapon in the Steeler’s
offense last season. Additionally, Johnson is only under contract through 2024, so Pickens has a golden opportunity to seize the #1 role with Johnson’s window with the Steelers rapidly closing. Furthermore, the Steelers made some upgrades this offseason to their O line by drafting OT Broderick Jones and signing G Isaac Seumalo. These new pieces will hopefully give Pickett more time in the pocket to open things up to find Pickens more often. Finally, with all this said, word coming out of Steelers camp is that Pickens has been running a more complex route tree. We will most likely be seeing Pickens run routes other than his typical go routes, slants, and hitches. If Pickens can create better separation in the short and intermediate routes he should see an uptick in target share and production in 2023 and beyond. There is plenty of opportunity for Pickens to cement himself as the true Steeler alpha for many years to come.
Reasons to Sell
As previously noted, Kenny Pickett has been much more efficient as a passer when targeting Pickens, exemplified by his superior QB rating compared to when he is targeting the other Steeler wide receivers. This raises an intriguing question, Why was Picken’s target share of 15.6% so lackluster? Pickens played 12 games last year where he didn’t register more than 3 catches. Considering his 94% route participation, these are alarming numbers. In addition to this, his 1.38 yards per route run is horrendous when you consider his aDOT is sitting at 15.6. It is clear that Pickens isn’t the first read, or even the second, unless he is 40 yards downfield The ball simply isn’t going Pickens’s way often enough. What’s more, to me, the most concerning part of Pickens’s game, is his inability to get open and create separation. His route tree has been very basic because of this. As Matt Harmon has illustrated in his Reception Perception, Pickens does poorly vs. zone coverage (68.3 success rate) and even worse yet, vs. man coverage (64.9%). These are very poor numbers, especially when compared to the other rookies that were in this class. Lastly, it is rare (25%) for a wide receiver selected in round 2 or later to finish as a top 24 wide receiver, if they failed to do so in their rookie season. I’d be more optimistic of Pickens becoming a consistent top-24 receiver had he been a first-round pick.
D’oh Canada’s Offense
One would think that having consistency in the coaching staff would be a good thing for a young wide receiver. I think, however, the worst thing the Steelers did this offseason was keep Matt Canada as their offensive coordinator. Unfortunately, I think the Steelers would need to take a huge step back for them to move on from him. As I noted earlier, I think the Steelers will take a small step forward this year offensively saving Canada’s job once again. His heavy run, low passing volume offense simply can’t sustain two top 24 wide receivers. Last year the Steelers only
passed the ball 569 times, This ranks well within the bottom half of the league, slim Pickens if you ask me. Still, I expect Pickett to make another leap in his 2nd year, however, I can’t see the Steelers passing more than 600 times this season, which doesn’t bode well for Pickett finishing as a top-15 quarterback that many expect. This doesn’t leave many extra targets to go to Pickens when we consider the whooping 27% target Diontae Johnson commands. Even though Pickens finished ahead of Diontae Johnson last year in PPR scoring, it is not a reflection of how the season played out. Diontae has been a target hog throughout his career. Johnson is constantly open and has proven to consistently create separation. Johnson is Pickett’s first read and undoubtedly the Steeler’s #1 receiver. Finally, the addition of Allen Robinson is worth noting, adding this seasoned veteran adds a reliable outlet in the slot for this young quarterback. It’s also worth mentioning, that Pickens came off the field 50% of the time when the Steelers were running 11 personnel in their recent pre-season game vs. the Buccaneers. This is something worth keeping an eye on because if Pickens is being taken off the field more often this year it will be hard for him to return value on his ADP.
Flashy big plays are great, but it’s risky to solely rely on them on a weekly basis. Unless Pickens can earn consistent targets on short and intermediate routes, it will not result in consistent fantasy production. The big play ability makes Pickens an attractive sell for me. There will surely be someone in your league who thinks he will break out and become a top 20-dynasty wide receiver. It would take a lot of things bouncing Pickens’s way to fulfill such lofty expectations. With all this said, in my opinion, unfortunately, the Steelers simply don’t pass enough for this to become a reality in the foreseeable future. Let one of your league mates buy into this over-hype. There is such a wide range of where people view and draft Pickens in dynasty startups. I’ve seen him go as high as the WR13 and as far down as the WR42. This large variance is intriguing to me, and one that I would be looking to take advantage of immediately. Pickens finished as the WR40 in 2022, but his dynasty value rose to around WR34 on many platforms. I think WR34 is right around his ceiling, and I’d be trying to sell him to a league mate who views him as a top 20 dynasty wide receiver asset. I’d wait for one of those highlight reel catches to pop up on Sportcenter, then put him on the trade block. As the trade offers come in surely one of them will be right for the Pickens.
Mike Lindberg has been playing fantasy football since 2008. He specializes in Dynasty, Keeper and Redraft leagues.
He spends a lot of time reading, listening to podcasts, and mock drafting in order to give you the best fantasy advice possible.
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Let’s go win some championships!