George Pickens Showing Steelers Superstar Potential

The Pittsburgh Steelers can see George Pickens becoming a true No. 1 receiver - if he puts the work in.
Oct 8, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) catches a 41 yard pass for a touchdown as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marion Humphrey (44) applies coverage during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. The catch was the game-winning score as the Steelers won 17-10.  Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) catches a 41 yard pass for a touchdown as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marion Humphrey (44) applies coverage during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium. The catch was the game-winning score as the Steelers won 17-10. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports / Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH -- The talk of preseason workouts for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and much of the offseason following Diontae Johnson's departure, has been the search for a No. 2 wide receiver to pair with George Pickens. But that conversation was predicated upon one thing - Pickens improving on an outstanding 2023 campaign and becoming a bonafide No. 1 option.

Pickens led the Steelers in targets, receptions, yards, yards per reception and tied the team lead in touchdowns. He owned the longest reception of the season and, outside of perhaps the two-headed monster at running back, was Pittsburgh's most dangerous offensive weapon all year long. It took no time for new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni to recognize the immense talent Pickens packs into his tall, wiry frame (As Azzanni put it, "I think even Ray Charles can see that"). But the Steelers are hunting for more as a team and to achieve their goals, Pickens has to make a sizable leap too.

“He can be, it’s right there for him," Azzanni said when asked if Pickens can be a true No. 1 receiver. "He’s just got to pick it up and take the cheese and do the things we ask him to do and he can do anything he wants."

Pickens, the 2022 second round pick that quickly became a superstar on the field for the Steelers, has a habit of making the extraordinary look routine. He can elevate over any defender, extend his long arms and 6'3 body to make diving grabs, breakaway for yards after the catch with his speed and he's a mean blocker to boot.

But to become an undeniable No. 1 option, someone the opposition can't shut down - or must devote arduous amounts of resources to stop - Pickens needs consistency and a finer handle on the details. The good news is that Azzanni said his work to this point in preseason workouts has been fantastic. He's responding to the lessons his new position coach is trying to impart and making an impression on his new quarterback, Russell Wilson, as well.

"It's exciting just to watch his growth day to day. His work ethic, his ability to catch the ball and the explosive plays that he makes, they even just on a slant route," Wilson said. "Some of the things he does, not many people in the world can do them and I'm really excited. We've spent a lot of time communicating and stuff so you just take it one day at a time and just continue to build it. I've been lucky to play with a lot of special receivers and he's that guy."

Azzanni, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, will harp on the little things with Pickens. He'll try to expand his route tree and make Pickens a complete player. Azzanni is happy to have a plaver that's responded to his lessons so far and hopes to keep stacking strong days like the first practice of minicamp this week.

“I don’t know what he was used to before. I don’t really care. I just know how I do it. He’s been great so far. Out here today, he was awesome," Azzanni said. "I can tell that guys are listening when I say a little thing and I can see them pick it up and trying to do it. It might not be good yet but I can see him trying - that’s all I ask. As of today, George has been great so we’ll stack the days and we’ll see. Man, there’s so much in there. So much untapped potential so if we can just get him a little bit better, it will be monumental.”

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Stephen Thompson

STEPHEN THOMPSON

Stephen Thompson graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications and political science from Pitt in April 2022 after spending four years as a sports writer and editor at The Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh's independent, student-run newspaper. He primarily worked the Pitt men's basketball beat, and filled in on coverage of football, volleyball, softball, gymnastics and lacrosse, in addition to other sports as needed. His work at The Pitt News has won awards from the Pennsylvania News Media Association and Associated College Press. During the spring and summer of 2021, Stephen interned for Pittsburgh Sports Now, covering baseball in western Pennsylvania. Hailing from Washington D.C., family ties have cultivated a love of Boston's professional teams and Pitt athletics, and a fascination with sports in general.