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Another Steelers steal: Why George Pickens looks like the next star wideout picked by Pittsburgh after Round 1

It’s the long-time neglect of a specific, high-profile position in the first round of the draft you haven’t heard about in excess over the past three years. Of course, I’m referencing the Steelers and the fact that they haven’t picked a receiver in Round 1 since Santonio Holmes was selected in 2006 (the Packers, more famously, haven’t picked a first-round receiver since 2002).

But, from Mike Wallace to Emmanuel Sanders to Antonio Brown to Martavis Bryant to JuJu Smith-Schuster to Diontae Johnson to Chase Claypool, no team in football has created a more prestigious lineage of Day 2 and Day 3 picks at receiver over the past two decades than the Steelers.

And it feels like Pittsburgh has uncovered the next overlooked wideout in George Pickens, their second-round selection in April. He’s taken Steelers training camp by storm, and our very own Bryan Deardo recently documented Pickens’ dominance at St. Vincent College this summer.

Pickens was comfortably a first-round wideout on me Big Board before the 2022 draft. The only wideouts who received a higher grade were Drake London, Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson, and Skyy Moore.

I know training camp videos are all the rage right now. But let’s go inside what Pickens did in his unique career at Georgia that indicated he was ready to not just make the jump to the NFL but arrive on the scene as a wideout with instant star capabilities.

Before I begin, let’s remember, Pickens was a five-star recruit and the No. 4 wideout in the nation entering the collegiate ranks from the high school class of 2019. Pickens has been that dude for a while.

Let’s start with a touchdown against fellow second-round pick Roger McCreary, now of the Titans, then of Auburn University. Notice how assertively Pickens demolishes McCreary at the line then how effortlessly he accelerated and found the football out and over his shoulder.

That play is receiver teaching tape, and Pickens made that play as a 19 year old, mind you. Moving that fluidly and explosively at his 6-foot-3 is rare.

On the vertical route tree, Pickens is a scary matchup. Not simply because he’s tall and fast and entered college with the advanced skill of combating press coverage. His catch radius is enormous. Bigger than you think.

Grabs of the ridiculous extended-arm variety are littered all over Pickens’ film. From his freshman season on. That one, in a highly competitive bowl game, made a mark with me. From a potential standpoint, based on his frame and athleticism alone, Pickens is a weapon.

Why I smacked a first-round grade on him before the draft, he couples that five-star recruit caliber athletic profile with nuanced receiver skill. Like check how he blends both elements of playing the position on this touchdown against Arkansas. Comeback from the perimeter, catches the football then bends incredibly then dives for the score.

Or how about this comeback route against Cincinnati? It showcased much of Pickens next-level skill set. Same route as the score against Arkansas, subtle juke at the line, serious acceleration to push the corner up the field, then he snapped off the top of the route stem precisely when he moved into the defender’s blind spot to assure himself separation.

The cherry on top was how he adjusted to the slightly low and outside throw and watched it into his hands to make the grab. Stellar stuff from Pickens.

On this score against LSU and eventual No. 3 overall pick Derek Stingley, Pickens faked towards the sideline, erupted to the inside and, once again, adjusted to an off-target toss to secure the football thrown well outside his numbers. Oh, and this play, was one of Pickens’ eight touchdowns as an 18 year old (!) in 2019 for the Bulldogs.

Watch that again. Notice how Pickens kept his eyes on the quarterback the entire time. Sure, Stingley had outside leverage, which allowed Pickens to sneak inside. But the suddenness Pickens showcased there was special.

As the 11th receiver drafted with the No. 52 overall selection in April, Pickens was an enormous steal. Based on the Steelers track record with picking wideouts, we should have realized this immediately when his name was called when they went on the clock in Round 2.