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George Pickens NFL Rookie Profile - Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Outlook

George Pickens - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Rookies, Draft Sleepers

July is flying by, which means we are once again on the cusp of an NFL season and, in turn, fantasy football drafts. A crucial aspect of winning your fantasy league revolves around putting together a deep team that has a good mix of high-floor players and great upside plays. One of the best ways to attack upside in redraft leagues is identifying rookies that can help you win your league.

Typically, rookies are knocked down draft boards in fantasy during their first season because of uncertainty. Taking risks is nice, but most fantasy gamers are comfortable taking players in fantasy drafts that they have seen perform at the NFL level. Identifying rookies that are poised for big seasons (or avoiding popular rookies that won’t) becomes an edge for fantasy players.

One rookie to monitor in this class is former Georgia wide receiver and current Pittsburgh Steeler George Pickens. Check out his rookie spotlight below.


George Pickens College Production

George Pickens was universally regarded as a five-star wide receiver by all the major recruiting services coming out of high school thanks to his size and physicality. Pickens made an immediate impact as a freshman with the Bulldogs, playing in all 12 games and totaling 49 receptions, 727 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns.

He followed that campaign up with 36 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns in a COVID-shortened sophomore year. At that time, Pickens was receiving some buzz about being the best wide receiver in the class thanks to his ability to complete contested catches and gain yards after the catch.

Heading into his third season, Pickens was named a pre-season 2nd team All-American. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in March 2021 derailed that hype.

Pickens was able to return at the end of the season, playing in four games and totaling just five receptions for 107 yards while winning a National Championship with the Georgia Bulldogs. Shortly after the season, he declared for the NFL draft.


NFL Situation for George Pickens

Pickens didn’t do much during the pre-draft season as he continued to rehabilitate his knee. The rookie receiver opted to just do measurables (6’3, 200 pounds) and run the 40-yard dash (4.47) at the NFL combine. That was enough to get Pickens drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers historically have been able to identify great wide receivers throughout the draft process, making their opinion on Pickens as an NFL talent very intriguing. However, several factors make it difficult to gauge Pickens's ability to make an immediate impact on the team.

For one, the Steelers are ushering in a new era at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement during the offseason. The Steelers averaged 660 pass attempts per season despite Roethlisberger’s lack of arm strength because they trusted the veteran quarterback to make the right decisions to move the ball down the field.

The Steelers will replace him in 2022 with Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, which makes their team's passing situation murky. Trubisky has struggled at times as a passer in his professional career and while Pickett was the top quarterback (in a bad QB class), he was widely considered a late-round pick until a huge last season at Pittsburgh.

Additionally, Pickens will have to compete with a very strong group of receiving options in Pittsburgh for targets. The team’s top four targets from last season (Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Najee Harris, and Pat Freiermuth) return.

Johnson has built himself into one of the better wide receivers in the league and Claypool has averaged over 850 receiving yards in his first two seasons with the team and is one year removed from scoring nine touchdowns. Both Harris and Freiermuth were effective as receivers during their rookie year.

One thing working in Pickens' favor? The Steelers were third in the league last season in running three wide receiver sets (75% of offensive formations). Even with Johnson and Claypool in the wings, there is an opportunity for Pickens to win a role in the offense during his first season in the league.


George Pickens Rookie Year Fantasy Outlook

Currently, Pickens is being drafted as the WR72 in fantasy drafts and has an ADP of 190.02. The uncertainty around his role in the offense and the fact that he is barely a year removed from a significant knee injury are suppressing his ADP. At that price, Pickens is well worth a selection in fantasy drafts.

Pickens may struggle to earn targets against the veteran receiving options on the Steelers in his first season. However, if the Steelers can maintain a reasonable pass rate and continue to use three wide receiver sets, he will have a chance to be on the field often.

Players like Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson will command the attention of defenses, leading Pickens into the one-on-one contested catch situations he showed he was adept at in college. If Pickens fails to see the field early or Pittsburgh decides to lean on the run with the lesser quarterback options, then he is an easy cut in fantasy leagues for more established players.

In dynasty, Pickens is an excellent example of an upside selection in the late first or early second round of rookie drafts thanks to his upside. Pickens can be stashed on the bench (or taxi squad) if he fails to make an impact throughout his rookie season, but there is also a chance that he can win an outside receiver job in his first season and provide fantasy value.

Diontae Johnson is in the last year of his deal and the Steelers haven’t shown a willingness to offer him top wide receiver money so far. If Johnson hits the open market, Pickens will be poised for a massive role in the offense during his second season. He is a great trade target if the person who drafted him in your league wants a more consistent option during his rookie season.

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