While the nuances of the running game are most intriguing to me, I love the dynamics of wide receiver play! In my recent Tracking Translation wide receiver article, we focused on three names: Drake London, Chris Olave, and Treylon Burkes. In the first week of the preseason, George Pickens has caused me to question my selections. We didn’t get to see much from those receivers in the first preseason game:
- Drake London sustained a knee injury after one reception
- Burks had one uncatchable target and one rush in 30 snaps
- Olave had one target on 15 snaps with Dalton at the helm
Pickens has been getting a lot of press on social media as of late. It seems prudent to run through a few of those clips to describe some of the grains of salt you can take away from them.
What is Pickens Known For?
In George Pickens Rookie Profile, the former Georgia wide receiver was highlighted with the following upside:
- A productive rookie campaign (49 recs, 727 rec yds, 14.8 YPR, and 8 TDs)
- The danger he presents given a free release
- Ball tracking and ball skills
He also had the following concerns:
- Lack of physicality in run blocking
- A high number of body-catches
- Estimated 40 speed of 4.5-4.7 (measured at 4.47 at the NFL combine)
At the NFL level, we want to see if he can:
- Beat press coverage
- Catch away from his frame more frequently
- Create separation regardless of his speed
For the record, Twitter scouting is incomplete at best, but if that is all you have time to consume, then it is better than nothing. Let’s start with the first concern: physicality in run blocking.
Run Blocking – Physicality
Run blocking is the dirty work that earns snaps along with receiving production. If the concern from the profile held up, it would impact his production upside. It seems like the Steelers’ coaching staff made an impression on its importance. Pickens created this gem of a highlight.
Pickens straight destroys Coby Bryant, which seems pretty straightforward, but there is more to glean. First, watch his footwork. He starts with a foot-fire knowing that he is facing press coverage where Bryant will look to make contact. Bryant has to protect his leverage and his cushion. This forces him to backpedal, which shifts his weight to his heels. Bryant’s timing to initiate contact was right when his center of gravity was moving backward, which is when Pickens engages.
Why is all of that detail important? It demonstrates that Pickens is using his technique to manipulate the defender. Many receivers do not use release footwork to set up a block like this, which speaks to his mental processing. We must like the footwork and football IQ we see here and look for consistency in this area going forward.
If you saw the one above, then you saw this one too. Pickens shows some positive traits on this route.
This may appear to be a simple fade, but we should look closer. Notice how he shortened his steps with a subtle body movement toward the inside as he closes on Bryant? These two movements are all he needed to get Bryant to hesitate so Pickens could stack. Then we see good ball tracking, subtle use of his off-hand to create space, excellent boundary awareness, and the sweet-sweet toe-tap with the basket catch. This is a point toward gaining separation regardless of his speed.
Let’s talk about those hands. We saw a little bit in the last clip, but a video from training camp is interesting from a “CAN DO” standpoint.
These show Pickens is more than capable of plucking the ball out of the air. Granted, these are receptions against the air, but the hands and the body control are pluses. This is especially true when you can see it against competition like in this clip.
Again we see him pluck this one out of the air on this Dig route. The only reason the safety couldn’t get there is that Pickens is aware of and attacks the Zone soft spot. We can look to that preseason game again for more evidence. We have to like this catch through contact while plucking away from his frame. We also see some body control here as well.
What’s Next for Pickens?
Pickens has firmly inserted himself in the Tracking Translation rotation. With all of these positives displayed, we must look for consistency in displaying these traits. Hopefully, we get another peek at Pickens in the preseason, but we shall see. The real test is still to come in the regular season when defenses are more complex and starting DBs have been able to study some film on him.
With that said, all the indicators we covered improved his stock. The acquisition window seems closed (I haven’t had any luck), but perhaps I’m not making the right offers. I browsed some trades on DynastyGM to look at some of the more straightforward trades of the 20 recorded in the last two days.
This is interesting: an aging Allen Robinson who seems to have peaked in his career when he won me a championship in 2015 with the pick to get Pickens seems like a fair trade. If you can pull this off, I say DO IT!
On something like this one, I would take the Bateman side. We have seen proof of Bateman’s abilities versus NFL competition in the regular season, and that was without Lamar Jackson. I couldn’t blame anyone if they took the Pickens’s side. At this point, the upside looks good, but I prefer the better passer in this equation.
If you want to get an idea of other offers you could construct, you should join the Nerd Herd to access DynastyGM. The upside to lead this receiver class is there, but I will let you be the judge of the evidence shown. If you want to follow my future analysis of how Pickens and other rookies translate to the NFL, keep following me here or on Twitter: @FFB_Vern.