Sports News 247

Study: How The Steelers Can Help George Pickens Elevate In 2024



During the 2023 offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers WR George Pickens was the hot ticket for a breakout season. He had a quality rookie season even with quarterback instability, hauling in 52 passes for 801 yards and four touchdowns.

While Pickens definitely improved on those numbers in 2023, it still wasn’t the season everyone expected. He did eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time with 63 catches for 1,140 yards and five touchdowns. However, for a team with high expectations going into the season, thanks to a stellar preseason, the offense floundered for most of the season, limiting Pickens’ success.

So, fast-forward to the 2024 offseason. The Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith to help with fixing the schematic issues. Pittsburgh also has a brand-new quarterback room with Russell Wilson, Justin Fields, Kyle Allen, and potentially more. That could potentially help with fixing the on-field execution issues. So, does that mean Pickens is going to have a genuine breakout season in 2024? Here’s how the Steelers can make that happen.

More Accurate Targets

I spent some time digging into how many of George Pickens’ targets were actually considered catchable. Now, remember, target numbers can be subjective. I looked at three different stats websites (Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, and, and all three had different target numbers. They weren’t insanely far apart, but it serves as a reminder that this is subjective.

I used for this because the site tracks catchable pass rates for quarterbacks and catchable target rates for wide receivers. So, the first thing I did was take a look at Pickens.

In 2023, had Pickens targeted 106 total times and said 73 of those were catchable. That’s a catchable target rate of 68.9 percent. Of all offensive players who were targeted in the passing game, that catchable rate was 61st in the league. That means 60 players had more catchable targets on average than Pickens.

Based on Pickens’ 106 total targets, he had a catch rate of 59.4 percent. When you take his 63 catches and compare them to 73 catchable passes, his catch rate jumps to 86.3. That’s a pretty nice jump in percentage. So if the Steelers want Pickens to become the elite wide receiver he’s shown flashes of, they should give him better-quality targets.

So, after looking at George Pickens’ catch rates, I switched to looking at Kenny Pickett’s numbers to get a better understanding. In 2023, PlayerProfiler had Pickett with a 71.9 percent catchable pass rate. That ranked 38th out of all quarterbacks who attempted passes. Now, that would include some variances thanks to small sample sizes, but it’s not good.

So then I looked at the quarterback in “pole position,” as head coach Mike Tomlin said, Russell Wilson. In 2023, Wilson had a catchable rate of 75.6 percent. That’s a full 3.7 percentage points better than Pickett. Once again, that may not seem like a huge amount, but when you consider attempted 447 passes versus Pickett’s 324, that accuracy adds up quickly. For the record, Wilson ranked 14th in the league for catchable rate.

Unfortunately for Justin Fields, that’s one of his biggest struggles. In 2023, Fields threw a catchable target on only 68.1 percent of his passing attempts. That’s 3.8 percentage points lower than Pickett.

At the moment, if the Steelers want to help Pickens get to the next level, they’ll need better quarterback play. When looking at the 2023 statistics, there’s no question that Wilson was the most accurate out of the three quarterbacks we’ve looked at.

There is another area that the Steelers could focus on that will help Pickens, and this is a schematic issue that Smith can solve.

Feed George Pickens The Ball In The Red Zone

Going off the same data on George Pickens, we can see that he wasn’t a factor when the Steelers got into the red zone. In Pickens’ first two seasons in the league, the Steelers have attempted 273 offensive plays in the red zone. On 45 percent of those plays, the Steelers ran a pass play that did not result in a scramble. When excluding sacks, Pickett was targeted a grand total of 15 times over two seasons, a target rate of 12.2 percent. That seems fairly criminal for a player of Pickens’ stature and ability to win in contested situations.

It stands to reason that using Pickens more in the red zone would benefit the team and Pickens. So what do Arthur Smith’s offenses tell us about how he uses a team’s top wide receiver in the red zone? (For the record, I am using a team’s most-targeted wide receiver throughout the season to mean top wide receiver)

In Smith’s three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, the Falcons attempted 469 offensive plays in the red zone. They called a passing play that did not result in a scramble on 44.7 percent of those plays. When you exclude sacks, the top wide receiver was targeted on 25.6 percent of the resulting pass attempts. That’s 12.3 percent more target share than the Steelers targeted Pickens.

Now, what about the Tennessee Titans with Smith as offensive coordinator? In 2019 and 2020, the Titans ran 284 offensive plays in the red zone. They called a pass play that did not result in a scramble on 47.1 percent of those passes. The Titan’s top receiver, A.J. Brown, was targeted on 16.9 percent of those throws. So Brown was not targeted as much as top receivers in Atlanta but still saw a target share 3.6 percent higher than Pickens.

So Smith has shown a willingness to attempt more red zone passes than the Steelers while also giving the top wide receiver more of a target share than Pickens has gotten in his first two seasons.

George Pickens was not the most targeted wide receiver on the Steelers in 2022. That honor goes to Diontae Johnson, who was traded to the Carolina Panthers this offseason. While Pickens saw more targets in 2023 than Johnson, Johnson played in four fewer games due to injury and was only targeted 19 times less. Overall, Johnson was targeted 28 times in the red zone in the last two seasons for a target rate of 24.8 percent. His target share is the reason the Steelers’ share is as elevated as it is (he had 18 red zone targets in 2022 as the top wide receiver target).

As noted above, you would think Pickens’ size and contested-catch ability would be an asset down at the goal line. Yet the Steelers didn’t seem to give him many opportunities through two seasons. If Smith can figure out a way to make him impactful in the red zone, that could go a long way toward putting points on the board.

Final Thoughts

There is no question that the Steelers still have a need at wide receiver after trading Johnson to the Panthers. However, the team would do well to add more talent and do what they can to elevate their already existing talent. That means helping a budding star like George Pickens by improving the quality of his targets and using him more in the red zone.

Does George Pickens have work to do? Absolutely. He needs to continue to mature and work on his lapses in concentration. He cannot ascend to being an elite wide receiver without putting the work in. The Steelers have a role to play in that process as well, and these are two areas that would benefit him greatly.


Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.