The Pittsburgh Steelers’ two drafted rookie wide receivers have been called upon to play a prominent role thus far during training camp, in no small part due to Diontae Johnson’s contract ‘hold-in’ and Chase Claypool currently being sidelined with an injury.
As a result of the circumstances, both were running with Mitch Trubisky in the first-team offense during the team’s first two-minute drills of training camp yesterday. Fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III believed he’d finished off the drive with a touchdown before being ruled down. Second-rounder George Pickens ultimately found the end zone instead to cap off the drive with a score.
“It just made it right, George finishing it off”, he said on Steelers Live following practice. “He’s that guy that’s gonna be that big-time playmaker, make those crazy catches in those big-time moments. To see us both contribute is a good thing, but we’re never laxed or constantly just weighing on, ‘Oh yeah, we made a play’”.
Pickens certainly has the makings of ‘that guy’, his second-round status attributed pretty much exclusively to questions over his health while recovering from a torn ACL. He is 6’3”, with sufficient size and plenty of toughness, playmaking ability, speed, and attention to detail in his craft to be a great player.
Of course, all that we have seen from him thus far is just a handful of training camp practices, and for as much as we might be quick to list the reasons that, say, Trubisky might be struggling because of the skill position players who are absent, they are also playing a defense without Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace—and Tyson Alualu and Larry Ogunjobi.
All we can do is go by what we see and hear and read, and so far, almost everything we have seen from Pickens has been impressive. He needs to hold onto a couple more balls, ideally, but he had great hands in college, so I have no reason to doubt his ability to adjust.
Unless the coaches decide to start the season with a veteran like Anthony Miller or Miles Boykin, Pickens seems to be in position to begin the year as the team’s number three receiver alongside Johnson and Claypool.
But can he take off once he’s on the field? Can he have a Claypool-like rookie season? A large part of that rests on whether or not the starting cast is there to support that, but talentwise, it’s hard to question his ability to be a top player at his position in the relatively near future. It’s just a matter of actually going out there and doing it.