Sophomore Projections: George Pickens

Welcome to Sophomore Projections: George Pickens! Now that the 2022 season is over, it’s time to turn right back to drafting for next season. The period between the Super Bowl and free agency is the most volatile as teams and roles are not complete until players sign, and rookies are drafted in the new league year. Which rising sophomores are expected to see role decreases and fall in value or see role increases and rise in value after the new league year starts? Find out in this series, projecting the studs and duds in their sophomore years.

Rookie Year Player Breakdown

With a polarizing rookie season, George Pickens is a volatile fantasy stock in the offseason. In his first season, Pickens finished with 52 receptions for 801 yards. He had 15.4 (No. 3) yards of average target distance with a 57.1-percent (No. 13) Contested Catch Rate, profiling as a deep target making contested receptions.

Despite the deep receptions, Pickens finished the season with 1.54 (No. 56) Yards Per Route Run. He also had a 15.6-percent (No. 58) Target Share, with just two games over six targets. He became the Steelers’ No. 2 WR with Kenny Pickett at QB, grabbing four touchdowns and playing in every game. Ultimately, Pickens was a good deep target receiver, making circus catches, but not getting ample usage to be better than a fantasy WR4.

Future Role & Production

One of the factors in determining Pickens’s future role will be determining how sustainable his style of play will be. As a rookie, he had a 1.34-yard (No. 94) Target Separation. Without separation, he won’t see a higher Target Share even though he is a good contested catch receiver.

Pittsburgh is going to roll with Pickett at QB, who had 6.2 (No. 32) Yards Per Attempt. Pickens is currently the WR2 for the Steelers, but expect some movement in that WR room via the draft and free agency. With Pickett being a shallower thrower, Pickens will have a harder time garnering targets without better separation. A guy like Pat Freiermuth will take those targets instead. Pickens’s role next season will rely on him developing into a better separator and shallow target with a path to more volume coming from improving that part of his game.

Value Diagnosis

George Pickens is currently WR23 on PlayerProfiler’s Dynasty Rankings. He is around guys like Deebo Samuel, Treylon Burks, and Jameson Williams. Younger players get rated higher among receivers, and Pickens’s production and second-round draft capital hold him highly. On KeepTradeCut, Pickens is ranked around a 2023 late first-round rookie pick, D.J. Moore, and Tony Pollard in SuperFlex leagues. Unless Carolina gets a big QB upgrade, Moore’s fantasy value is not soaring. Meanwhile Pollard, as an RB looking for a second contract, is volatile now. If you can get a league mate to overvalue his youth, trade Pickens for either of those guys plus more, and you will get value back.

In redraft and best ball, Pickens should be taken around the range of late WR2s or early WR3s. His usage this season will depend on added target competition and if he stays a one-dimension-deep target. If the Steelers make a significant receiver addition, his stock will fall, otherwise, it will rise a smidge. For now, you are chasing the WR2/3 production of Jerry Jeudy/Jakobi Meyers when drafting Pickens for seasonal leagues.

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