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George Pickens

Breakout potential in second-year wideout

While working on another item, I noticed a striking disparity between the Steelers' main wideouts last year. George Pickens and Diontae Johnson had a similar number of receiving yards, but in every other respect they were a lot different. Pickens was a lot more efficient, and productive, with his opportunities.

One that leaps out is touchdowns: Pickens caught 5, Johnson didn't catch any. But what was especially remarkable was that Pickens' 801 yards came on just 84 targets. Johnson had only 81 more yards while having 63 more passes thrown his way (147) -- not quite twice as many, but within shouting distance.

In terms of yards per target, Pickens was a top-10 receiver last year, among all wideouts with at least 75 targets. Johnson was better than only two other players. (For those who want to look at yards per catch, Pickens was even better in that regard -- only four players on this list posted a higher number than his 15.4.)

WR YARDS PER TARGET, 2022 (75-PLUS TARGETS)
PlayerTgtRecYdsAvgTDY/Tgt
Jaylen Waddle, Mia.11775135618.1811.6
A.J. Brown, Phil.14588149617.01110.3
Tyreek Hill, Mia.170119171014.4910.1
Terry McLaurin, Was.12077119115.559.9
Justin Jefferson, Min.184128180914.199.8
Jerry Jeudy, Den.1006797214.569.7
Mike Williams, LAC936389514.249.6
George Pickens, Pitt.845280115.459.5
Tee Higgins, Cin.10974102913.979.4
Tyler Boyd, Cin.825876213.159.3
Stefon Diggs, Buff.154108142913.2119.3
JuJu Smith-Schuster, K.C.1017893312.039.2
Gabe Davis, Buff.934883617.479.0
Brandon Aiyuk, S.F.11478101513.088.9
Mike Evans, T.B.12777112414.668.9
Tyler Lockett, Sea.11784103312.398.8
DeVonta Smith, Phil.13695119612.678.8
Amari Cooper, Cle.13278116014.998.8
Chris Olave, N.O.11972104214.548.8
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cle.966183913.848.7
CeeDee Lamb, Dall.156107135912.798.7
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, K.C.814268716.428.5
Keenan Allen, LAC896675211.448.4
Davante Adams, L.V.180100151615.2148.4
Jakobi Meyers, N.E.966780412.068.4
Christian Kirk, Jac.13384110813.288.3
Cooper Kupp, LAR987581210.878.3
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Det.146106116111.068.0
Allen Lazard, G.B.1006078813.167.9
JaMarr Chase, Cin.13487104612.097.8
Courtland Sutton, Den.1096482913.027.6
Alec Pierce, Ind.784159314.527.6
DJ Moore, Car.1186388814.177.5
Brandin Cooks, Hou.935769912.337.5
Garrett Wilson, NYJ14783110313.347.5
DeAndre Hopkins, Ari.966471711.237.5
DK Metcalf, Sea.14190104811.667.4
Drake London, Atl.1177286612.047.4
Mack Hollins, L.V.945769012.147.3
K.J. Osborn, Min.906065010.857.2
Chris Godwin, T.B.14210410239.837.2
Josh Palmer, LAC1077276910.737.2
Curtis Samuel, Was.926465610.357.1
Parris Campbell, Ind.91636239.936.8
Zay Jones, Jac.1218282310.056.8
Deebo Samuel, S.F.945663211.356.7
Adam Thielen, Min.1077071610.266.7
Marquise Brown, Ari.1076770910.636.6
Michael Pittman, Ind.141999259.346.6
Marvin Jones, Jac.814652911.536.5
Demarcus Robinson, Balt.75484589.526.1
Diontae Johnson, Pitt.1478688210.306.0
Robert Woods, Ten.91535279.925.8
Chase Claypool, 2TM79464519.815.7

The kind of routes the players were running are a factor, and also the quarterbacks -- note that the bottom guy on this list, Chase Claypool, played half the season in the same offense as Johnson, with Kenny Pickett at quarterback. But Pickens was able to overcome a rookie finding his way to do more with his targets last year than all but seven other wideouts.

In his second season, as one of clear top 2 wideouts in the offense (I'm not concerned about veteran flier Allen Robinson), Pickens should see more targets. With what he's proven capable of doing with them, I think a year 2 step up will be in order. I expect to have him on plenty of rosters; I'll let others go after Johnson.

--Andy Richardson

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