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With JuJu Smith-Schuster departing to the Chiefs this offseason, the Steelers will need to fill his role in the slot. Diontae Johnson is primarily an outside receiver, so the slot position could be manned predominantly by Chase Claypool or George Pickens, who both are big-bodied receivers.
Pickens stands at 6-3, 195 pounds, and is viewed to best fit as an X receiver, as that's where he lined up mostly at Georgia. Pickens said he played in the slot during practices at Georgia, however.
“The reality is that you need all types, particularly in today’s game, for matchup purposes,” Mike Tomlin said via Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday about big receivers playing in the slot. “So, we’re casting a big net. A lot of guys are acclimating themselves to that space and showing that they’re capable.”
Steelers' offensive coordinator Matt Canada said after the selection of Pickens in April that had he not torn his ACL last spring, he would have been the top receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft. So, far Canada has been highly impressed with Pickens. He even calls him "Big George."
“He’s a frickin’ big dude,” Canada said. “I just think his ability to transition his body for a guy who’s so big — and, obviously, George is young and figuring it out like everybody is. ... He’s come in here and been very much a sponge to learn, working very hard at whatever we ask him to do.”
This past week at minicamp, Tomlin called Pickens “raw” but also someone with “a lot of talent.”
"Very much in development. He's got a lot of talent but he's raw. But that's okay. That's why we have coaches," Tomlin said when asked about Pickens' route tree. "It's our job to help him grow and develop, not only him, but all of them. He's got a lot of talent. We drafted him where we drafted him based on that talent. It's our job and his job to develop the skill that allows those talents to show regardless of circumstance."
While it was just football in shorts, reports out of OTAs and minicamp suggest that Pickens could take off in Year 1. Dale Lolley of DKPittsburghSports even said he's the "real deal." Pickens serving as the "Big Slot" seems ideal. With Pickens' size and speed, he would be a matchup nightmare for slot corners, safeties and linebackers. It sure will be interesting to see how Canada utilizes the Georgia product this year. There's definitely a lot to work with.