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George Pickens

Has George Pickens OROY Hype Gotten Out of Hand?

  • Justin Melo
  • August 19, 2022
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Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens has consistently turned heads at training camp. It’s difficult to miss Pickens’ imposing 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame at practice. Pickens has looked like a grown man at the position, routinely embarrassing defensive backs on a snap-by-snap basis. 

In an unexpected turn of events, Pickens is now BetOnline’s favorite to claim the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. We remain extremely high on Pickens, but the hype has gotten somewhat out of control.

It’s not surprising to witness a receiver top these odds given the outcome of the 2022 NFL Draft. The position is on a high following Ja’Marr Chase’s OROY triumph last season. A quarterback is typically the favorite, however, having won three of the previous six honors. But just one quarterback was selected in the first round of the 2022 draft. Ironically, that was Pickens’ teammate Kenny Pickett, who appears unlikely to begin the regular season as Pittsburgh’s starting signal-caller. It’s a situation that severely hampers Pickett’s chances of reigning victorious.

But why has Pickens suddenly leaped to the forefront? Pickens was the 11th receiver drafted in 2022. Several receivers selected ahead of Pickens may be in line for larger workloads than he is. That list includes Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Treylon Burks, who were all selected a round earlier than Pickens, to name a few. The majority of those players won’t share the field with receivers as talented as Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Competition amongst rookie pass-catchers will be stiff. Opportunity is more than half the battle in relation to rookie production, and we’re not convinced Pickens will see more targets than several of his first-year counterparts.

There are also rookie ball carriers to consider. Running back is often considered a devalued position in today’s pass-happy league, but don’t sleep on the fact that running backs have actually won two of the previous five OROY honors (Alvin Kamara in 2017 and Saquon Barkley in 2018). A pair of early second-rounders in Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III has landed in run-friendly environments. There’s not much preventing Hall and Walker from becoming workhorses for their respective teams in 2022. I’m personally leaning toward one of these running backs capturing the award.

Due to overall positional importance, we can’t totally rule out a quarterback like Pickett or Desmond Ridder emerging from the woodwork to lay claim to the award. Both Ridder and Pickett have paths to take over their team’s starting quarterback job. Don’t completely ignore the rookie signal-callers.

There’s also the manner of Pittsburgh’s offensive identity working against Pickens. Steelers standout running back Najee Harris carried the ball on a healthy 307 occasions last season. Only the rushing champion Jonathan Taylor handled more carries (332) than Harris did. Harris also recorded 74 receptions, proving he’s the focal point of their offense.

The Steelers are entering a second consecutive season with uncertainty under center. Mitchell Trubisky is the presumed starter, with Pickett and Mason Rudolph currently trailing him. Truthfully, none of Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks have inspired much confidence this summer. Their performances have been inconsistent. A middling passing offense that averaged just 222.2 passing yards per contest last season probably won’t enjoy much improvement. It means the Steelers are likely to remain a run-heavy offense that leans on Harris’ dual-threat abilities. Coupling that with Pickens working as the third-to-fifth option in the passing game (behind Johnson and Claypool, and in the mix alongside Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth) suggests Pickens may not be primed for an OROY-winning type of season.

Pickens’ pre-draft scouting report detailed a receiver with eye-popping physical ability. The Steelers have routinely drafted-and-developed receivers at an impressive clip. The ceiling remains incredibly high. Pickens should play his way into a legitimate role in the Steelers’ passing offense this season, but the OROY hype may be a tad misguided.

Written By

Justin Melo