Chiefs NFL Draft Fits: Georgia WR George Pickens comes for top-30 visit

Chiefs NFL Draft Fits: Georgia WR George Pickens comes for top-30 visit

As theKansas City Chiefs prepare for the2022 NFL Draftin Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 ( 94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).


The Kansas City Chiefs have been savvy when it comes to their wide receivers so far this offseason. They signed Juju Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal and inked Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year contract. Despite these contracts, the Chiefs still need a valid No. 1 wide receiver for 2022 and beyond.

On Wednesday, the Chiefs brought Georgia Bulldogs standout George Pickens in for a visit to get a closer look at him.

If we are talking about pure talent and potential, for my money, I don’t think there is a more dynamic player in this draft.

Background

Standing 6 feet 3 and weighing in at 195 pounds with 32 and 3/8-inch arms, Pickens has the size and length that the NFL covets. Pickens was a five-star recruit coming out of Hoover High School in 2019. He was the No. 4 high school receiver in the country and the No. 24 overall prospect.

As a true freshman (in 2019), Pickens hauled in 49 receptions for 727 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2020, Pickens followed up his freshman campaign by catching 36 passes for 513 yards and six touchdowns in only eight games played. Pickens missed a significant amount of time his sophomore year due to an upper-body injury.

On March 24, 2021, Pickens was injured again when he tore his ACL during spring practices. The injury sidelined Pickens for eight months, causing him to miss most of his junior campaign.

In February – at the NFL Combine – Pickens ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, posted a 33-inch vertical jump and a 125-inch broad jump.

Film evaluation

Drafting Pickens doesn’t come without its risks. He has struggled to stay healthy. But the results when he has been on the field have been off the charts. I cannot remember a time when I saw a prospect with the in-air body control that Pickens possesses.

He sacrifices his body and gives everything he has to find a way to haul in every target thrown his way, which may explain why he struggles to stay healthy.

I don’t think there is a better pass-catcher in the draft as far as pure talent goes.

This play was only four games removed from his return from his ACL injury. When Pickens comes off the line and hits his second gear, it’s hard to find any lingering effects from his injury.

He gets a good release off the line and sells the potential of breaking off the route to the sideline just enough to make the cornerback respect the possibility before extending the arm to keep space and turning the route back upfield. Watching Pickens lay out for the ball is a thing of beauty, the extension and abandon with which he does it is art in motion.

It’s almost a prerequisite in the NFL, that if you are going to be a No. 1 wide receiver, you have to be a little bit arrogant and cocky. Not to the point where you are a locker room cancer or uncoachable, but in appropriate doses. You want a guy who will line up for each play with the expectation of dominating the man standing before him.

There are questions about Pickens’ maturity. In his first game back from injury, he was ejected for getting in a fight with Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling.

You cannot behave that way on the football field, especially when you haven’t played in eight months. Pickens needed all the reps he could get to help get his knee back to full strength.

Seeing him grab another player by the facemask and slam his head into the wall raises concerns about his character.

To compound this – while he was warming up for his pro day, Pickens drew feedback from his receiving coach for not practicing the fundamentals correctly. Then Pickens attempted this one-handed grab, which elicited this response from his coach, “Save that s — t for tomorrow.”

I don’t think there is too much to read into here. Pickens was excited to perform for NFL scouts and wanted to show them what he could do. That being said, what scouts really want to see is a guy who takes the situation seriously and listens to his coaches.

Red flags aside – there are probably only a handful of people on earth with the athleticism, concentration and skill to go up and make this one-handed catch against Cincinnati.

High-pointing the ball, Pickens uses his otherwordly body control to turn in midair and pin the ball against the defender’s back and bring it into his body (all the while making sure he gets his feet down inbounds).

When people talk about catch radius, this is what they are referring to.

In this play, Pickens is lined up across from potential first-round pick cornerback Roger McCreary from Auburn. Before the snap, Georgia motions running back James Cook out of the backfield, leaving McCreary one on one in press-man coverage against Pickens.

Faking inside, Pickens puts McCreary onto his heels for a split second, which is all he needs to get a clean outside release. Once he has a step on McCreary, all Pickens has to do is run under the pass and haul it in.

Alabama’s Deonte Lawson is doing his best to get his hands on Pickens and jam him at the line of scrimmage, but Pickens plays through the contact.

Initially, Lawson has help, but the other defender peels off to cover the underneath route, leaving Pickens one on one with Lawson, who he already has two steps on. Pickens finds the soft spot in the zone for the easy gain.

A lot of young receivers waste steps when coming out of their breaks on their routes – they either stutter step or skip steps to gain momentum. With every extra step you take, you sacrifice potential separation from the defender.

On this play, Pickens begins by drifting slightly to the boundary before hard planting his left foot while simultaneously digging in his right foot to push off and accelerate. The result is that cornerback prospect Josh Jobe gets turned around and is left in no man’s land. Pickens made a great second effort to get upfield and pick up the first down.

If it’s one thing that the Chiefs wide receivers have been missing in recent years, it’s having a player with strong hands. When you watch Pickens, the ball rarely budges once it makes contact with his palms. In the play above, Pickens not only wins the 50-50 ball, but he fights through the defender who is attempting to dislodge the ball from his grip.

Pickens is a walking highlight reel, but the above play might be his very best out of all of his eye-popping tape. The quarterback is hit as he throws, causing him to throw a duck ball up for grabs in the end zone.

Despite the defender putting his hands in Pickens’ face and draping his arm over his neck, Pickens uses his elite body control to cut back and make a play on the ball.

How he fits with the Chiefs

Photo by Todd Kirkland / Getty Images

Pickens has the size and length to create big plays in any offensive system. He has the speed to stretch the field and makes difficult catches look routine. If the Chiefs are looking for a cheap alternative to the inflated salaries of veteran wide receivers, Pickens checks a lot of the boxes.

The bottom line

Pickens comes with his red flags. His on-field issues, coupled with his injury history, make him anything but a surefire thing. In his three years at Georgia, he failed to live up to fans’ lofty expectations for him.

Of all the top-end talent in this draft, I would say that Pickens is the most volatile from an investment perspective. If you told me that after a few months of working with the Chiefs training staff that Pickens will be stronger and more durable, and goes on to become a perennial All-Pro, then I would say I can see it happening.

But if you also said, he is going to have off-field problems and be injured for 80% of his career and struggled to get his footing and make an impact because of it; I wouldn’t be surprised either.

The potential is there for Pickens to be one of the best wide receivers in football. When you watch him on film, there is no weakness to his game beyond his ability to stay on the field.

If the Chiefs end up selecting Pickens, it will be because they liked what they heard when they met with him this week, and if Andy Reid signs off on it, then that’s good enough for me.

You don’t get an opportunity to acquire an elite talent like this every year in the draft. If Pickens is still there when the Chiefs pick at 29, go for it.

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