Surely the Pittsburgh Steelers would’ve hoped that the star of their 2022 training camp would be Kenny Pickett or maybe even an improved Mitchell Trubisky. Going into their first season with a new starting quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger became the unquestioned starter in 2005, the Steelers signed Trubisky in free agency — a former No. 2 overall pick whose career arc has trended down for the last three years — and in the first round of the 2022 draft they selected local Pitt Panther QB, Pickett.
The rookie struggled early in camp, and at one point the coaches had him working with the third team. Trubisky has also had his struggles. In the Steelers’ preseason opener, both played well with Pickett of course getting the majority of the snaps as the No. 2 quarterback. He threw a game-winning touchdown pass with three seconds remaining on the clock. However, the star of the game was George Pickens.
Truthfully, it’s been that way for the Steelers for most of training camp. Pickens does something to stand out athletically almost every day. On Saturday it just happened to be at Acrisure Stadium against the Seattle Seahawks instead of a muggy Tuesday at Saint Vincent College. Of his three catches, one was a toe-tapper in the back of the end zone for touchdown, but his highlight of the day was a pancake block that Hines Ward might be playing on repeat until the regular season begins.
Pickens is an athletic specimen. He’s 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine, and recorded a 33-inch vertical jump. What he got dinged on by scouts was his overall strength. He didn’t bench press at the combine, and his hands measured at 8 ¾ inches. Some scouts thought that he might struggle against press coverage in the NFL. Also, Pickens’ best season at Georgia was his first one. He was rated the fourth-best wide receiver prospect in America by 24/7 sports in 2019, and as a freshman, he scored eight touchdowns on 727 receiving yards.
During the COVID 2020 season, he totaled 513 receiving yards and six touchdowns in only eight games. Then the next year injury struck. Pickens tore an ACL during spring practice. He would return to the field before the end of Georgia’s national championship season, but only caught five passes in four games. In fairness to him, Stetson Bennett IV wasn’t exactly Matthew Stafford behind center.
Tomlin has been careful to not be too effusive with his praise of the rookie, but Pickens has been the show at practice. He has been snatching passes from all angles getting oohs and ahhs on a regular basis. Being that he’s a former Bulldog, he has even paid homage to Knowshon Moreno by effortlessly hurdling defenders.
The wide receiver factory that started with John Stallworth and Lynn Swann just keeps on pumping out talent. Names like Jack Lambert, Levon Kirkland, and James Harrison are the names that first come to mind when thinking of a town known as the “Steel City.” Expect T.J. Watt to terrorize opposing quarterbacks all season much to the delight of Western Pennslyvania, but the Steelers are as good at putting out talent at the NFL’s most graceful position as any team in the history of the league.
Wide receivers flew off the board in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, leaving some teams not to bother with the position in the second round. The Steelers’ spidey senses were tingling, and they saw a former five-star recruit with all of the athletic tools necessary to help work on this post-Roethlisberger offense.
He has been the star of the summer so far for the Steelers, and maybe him out there with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool is enough to make up for whatever Trusbiky and Pickett may lack.