George Pickens' limited college career indicated a wide range of outcomes. He had obvious talent. Earned a starting role on one of the best teams in the country as a true freshman. Tore his ACL prior to his Junior year, so he only really played 20 games. There wasn't much data worth gathering from his 2021 playoff tape.
The main question was his explosiveness. Pace modulation, burst, suddenness, lateral agility all graded out at 3.0/5.0. However, he was a fairly intelligent player with very high grades in Irreducibility and Physicality. This balanced out his Release & Route scores enough to offset YAC/Explosiveness questions. I found his overall game to be very enjoyable and gave him a first round grade, comping him to Kenny Golladay.
The best parts of George Pickens' game translated beautifully. His ball skills are insane. Superior body control, aerial awareness, and functional strength allow him to be a legitimate option even when a cornerback is all over him. He hauled in the 3rd most contested receptions in the NFL (18) behind DK Metcalf and Justin Jefferson. He had the highest contested win rate of any receiver over 20 contested targets at 69.2%. If everyone is covered, just throw it up to George.
There's not a better back-shoulder WR in the NFL.
He easily wins position against All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey and casually holds the ball away like an uncle re-living the glory days against the flailing arms of his grade school nephews. Vicegrip hands and impeccable timing to go with it.
As a third down weapon, Pickens has a nose for the sticks. His route footwork is efficient. He doesn't have an issue controlling momentum. Deceleration is not a problem for him.
He's always squeezing to steal extra yards on the sideline. He loves to get skinny and squeak by his defender. He turned curls into first downs continuously throughout the year.
Pickens post-catch ability is very intuitive. He has great awareness for all the moving parts around him. Here he anticipates, then avoids. Nifty moves help him steal extra yards with frustrating consistency.
While he's not going to explode past anyone or take a screen to the house. He is pretty good at adding real-world, in-game value to each play. He gets the most out of his athletic ability. For fantasy, a couple extra yards doesn't mean much. But it can be critical for keeping the offense on the field.
Do not let them tell you Pickens is a poor route runner. He's an intelligent player with limited lateral explosiveness and long speed. He has the manipulative skills down. He can win at the line, he can win in the intermediate game, and any time the ball is in the air, he's a good bet.
When he gets the opportunity to work a defender in space, he can undress them (isolated against the safety here):
When he's manned up, he can apply physicality with great timing to generate separation.
Best of all, Pickens knows how to read defender position & responsibility. See how quickly he interprets defensive pre-snap movement and correctly identifies the defender that he needs to beat. He works to push him toward midfield with convincing eyes and urgency, before bouncing back outside for a seemingly easy score. We can appreciate the rapid processing required to accomplish such a feat.
Pickens' fatal flaw is a lack of threatening burst. You can tell he feel like he needs to be the one to initiate contact. He knows he needs to get open quick enough for Pickett to give him a chance, so he rushes through his routes in an effort to try to get to where he needs to be quicker. He doesn't manipulate Sauce here, he just rolls into contact hoping to bully his athletic equal.
He had a terrible habit of touching the defender at the top of curls while at Georgia. It even showed up at his pro day:
The problem with constantly inviting/initiating contact is that you're not going to win every battle at this level. You can have good contested catch numbers, but you're going to miss key opportunities, especially if your QB is as mid as Pickett. Regardless of how big Pickens feels his catch radius is, he's actually shrinking his target window.
Living on the sideline is not a reliable way to generate consistent fantasy points. The margin for error is so tiny. One inch over and you've lost that awesome jaw-dropping highlight grab. You've wasted your target.
Combine a narrowing zone of opportunity with Kenny Pickett's tunnel vision and you're gonna get a lot of throwing up your hands in frustration after groping around in the dark.
Pickett is not the kind of QB that will improvise in Pickens' favor.
And when Pickett does see Pickens, who's to say the ball will be remotely catchable (even for George). Three, four, five missed opportunities like this really weigh on a player. Pickens was frustrated with Mitch and nothing really improved with Kenny.