To kick off each dynasty profile from the 2022 skill position draft class, a dated positional ranking will be presented, relevant to that prospect’s position. As the profiles have been published, the rankings have evolved. The number of WRs that are either declared underclassmen or seniors exhausting their eligibility – at least the ones that have publicly declared their intention to pursue a career in the NFL – currently stands at a crowded 168. And that isn’t even an exhaustive number since the WRs who have zero chance of being drafted have already been filtered out from the very long list of those testing at a collegiate Pro Day. Without further delay, here are the top-25 WR rankings from the 2022 class as of publication:
|Age (Week 1)
|North Dakota State
|John Metchie III
|Calvin Austin III
|Kevin Austin Jr.
The story of George Pickens on the gridiron began for our purposes during his sophomore year at Hoover High School. Pickens watched on as a Hoover roster led by Kholbe Coleman-Abrams and CJ Sturdivant guided the Buccaneers to a 17-7 victory over Jalen Tolbert, Marlon Williams, Bubba Thompson and their McGill-Toolen Yellowjackets in the AHSAA 7A state championship game. The following season, Pickens had developed into his team’s top playmaker and wouldn’t simply stand aside while Hoover won another AHSAA 7A State championship over McGill-Toolen. Tolbert and Williams had graduated, but the Yellowjackets were still led by Thompson during the rematch. Pickens posted a 2/61/2 receiving line during a complete dismantling of their opponent by a score of 48-20.
Pickens’ two receiving TDs from that state title victory are tied for the most in Class 7A Super 7 championship history and tied for the fourth-most among all classifications. It concluded an impact Age 16 season for Pickens, collecting 46 receptions, 735 yards and five TDs (16.0 YPR). He landed on the All-Birmingham, All-State (ASWA) and All-USA Alabama (USA Today) First Teams. As a senior, his 204 receiving yards in the 42-17 victory against Mountain Brook in the quarterfinals of the AHSAA 7A playoffs may only be the 74th-most in a single game in AHSAA history, but the total stands as the most in AHSAA playoff history and it was earned at Alabama’s highest classification (7A). We have the testing data in the following table provided by Pickens a few months after that title victory:
Hoover suffered a heartbreaking 31-28 defeat in the semifinals of the AHSAA 7A playoffs to a Thompson Warriors’ squad — the eventual champions — led by Taulia Tagovailoa, Shadrick Byrd and Michael Pettway. But Pickens drew national attention after creating the 17th-most receiving yards (1,368) and 51st-most receptions (69) in a single season in AHSAA history. Not to mention scoring 16 receiving TDs. Pickens was a finalist for the AHSAA 7A Player of the Year Award (ASWA). He also accumulated First Team All-USA Alabama (USA Today), Super All-State Team, First Team All-Birmingham and Second Team All-American (MaxPreps) honors.
Taking his skills to the all-star circuit, Pickens was named the Alabama MVP from the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game for his 9/155/2 line. He also posted a 4/55/0 line in the Under Armour All-American Game. From a list of offers that also included Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Oregon, Miami, Ole Miss and Florida, Pickens committed to play at Auburn dating all of the way back to July 21, 2017. It sent shockwaves across the recruiting circuit when he announced he would attend Georgia. And he mentions the recruiting efforts of Kirby Smart, Cortez Hankton (former pass game coordinator and WR coach who left to take on the same roles with LSU after the ‘21 season) and James Coley (former OC and QB coach who is now the TE coach at Texas A&M) behind his matriculation flip.
Pickens’ first season in Athens concluded by leading the Bulldogs in receptions (49), yards (727) and TDs (eight). Those eight TDs are tied for the seventh-most in a single season in program history. His 49 receptions are the third-most by a freshman in Georgia history. And his big true freshman season was capped off by a 12/175/1 line in UGAs 26-14 victory over Baylor, for which Pickens earned Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP honors.
The 12 receptions he compiled in that match are tied for the most in Georgia bowl game history, tied for the third-most in any game and are the most in one game for Georgia since Michael Johnson caught 13 against Auburn in 2002. Not only that, those 175 yards are the 11th-most in a single game in UGA history. It was more than enough for him to land on the All-SEC Freshman Team. Dealing with poor play at QB for much of the 2020 season, Pickens still led the team in receptions (36), yards (513) and TDs (six) for the second-consecutive season. Once again saving his best for the final game, Pickens racked up a 7/135/0 line in his team’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati.
With expectations sky-high entering the ‘21 preseason, Pickens tore the ACL in his right knee during the non-contact portion of the Bulldogs’ fourth spring practice in late March. He managed to make it back to the field to play a role in the SEC Championship loss to Alabama and in both CFP games that would culminate in collecting Georgia’s first National Championship since 1980. Pickens also had enough time to recover from the injury to not only provide us with his physical dimensions found in the table above, but he also gave us the testing results found in the table below:
Let’s get the evaluation machine motoring by taking a look at Pickens’ release. And it is certainly an interesting release from Pickens. Unlike the overwhelming school of instruction, he carries his pre-snap weight directly down his midline. Prior to his true release, Pickens will hesitate for a microsecond to see if the defender will attack. If not, he executes a mix of wiggle, stutter and juke while stemming to throw off a corner's balance.
If it was in any way unclear, let it be known that Pickens makes for an intimidating figure. While he may be lacking in the BMI department (34th-percentile), the 200 pounds he carries around is made of pure muscle. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see that he wants to avoid hand fighting out of his release. After searching through all of the footage from his UGA career, the reason is obvious. Opposing CBs are quick to get physical with Pickens, likely taking his imposing presence as a challenge.
With that in mind, it makes a bit of sense that Pickens would attempt to sidestep any more violence than he’s already presented. Will Pickens slap hands away that thwart his route momentum? No question. But his initial approach to press looks is to avoid those eager corners altogether.
The two most immediate initial takeaways from watching Pickens’ tape from his ’20 season:
- Stetson Bennett IV – yes, "The Mailman" who would eventually help to deliver Georgia its first title in over 40 years – was unmistakingly terrible all season.
- The SEC officials really let Pickens down with the level of contact they consistently permitted CBs to get away with beyond the five-yard legal contact zone.
It’s commendable that Pickens still set out to stem defensive backs knowing the high likelihood of officials allowing him to be criminally groped. As we switch to breaking down Pickens’ route precision, we land on a love-hate takeaway from his wook. First off, Pickens’ body control is very impressive. He seemingly stops on a dime on his curls and hitches. He also showcased quality collection on the 9b’s (back-shoulder gos) he was delivered.
At the same time, during the rare examples where Pickens had a 90 degree turn built into his route, we see inconsistency in his footwork and route sharpness. Pickens does not attack the middle of the field. He plays exclusively outside. It was very rare for Pickens to work inside the seams, with most examples coming from the top of his posts at the third-level. And so much of his game is split between flys and hitches. Finally, with his obvious play strength and big frame, it’s so strange that he was never much of a goal line presence for Georgia.
How can we not love the fact that Pickens combines 74th-percentile height with a 63rd-percentile 40-time, a 20-yard split at the 72nd-percentile and 10-yard at the 83rd-percentile? That information plays directly into his separation and ball-tracking ability. Pickens’ supply of speed is another factor likely motivating him to avoid those shallow exchanges of physicality. When Pickens is able to circle around jam attempts, the separation is coming. To the extent that we saw consistent separation from Pickens on his vertical work throughout his Bulldogs’ career. However, we were forced to watch Bennett underthrow Pickens on a vast number of those where he was under center. It should also be noted that Pickens never stacks his coverage, so he never did Bennett any favors.
A remarkable turning point inside the film from the ‘20 season for Pickens exploded to the forefront of the screen late in the year. Pickens’ play took off once JT Daniels took the reins of the UGA offense in Week 12. On well under half of his routes, working with Daniels accounted for 64% of Pickens’ receptions, 73% of his yardage and four-of-six TDs. More than anything, the large-caliber cannon Daniels brought to the field barraged Pickens with all of the quality deep targeting he could handle. Yes, the result of the ‘21 season is considered, but it’s still an absolute shame that we couldn’t see a full season of the UGA offense with Daniels’ arm delivering bombs to Pickens, Jermaine Burton and the rest of the Bulldogs’ talented receiving core.
Let’s discuss Pickens’ ball skills. When you have a 66th-percentile wingspan and the type of hand strength that Pickens was blessed to receive, you make it a point to employ those gifts. GP is nothing short of a powerful force when he deploys those tools to pluck the ball out of the air. It’s really too late once he has those hands wrapped around 50/50 balls.
While Pickens fell one inch short of hitting the projected performance threshold in the vertical jump for his height, it was great to still see Pickens consistently attempt to high-point the ball. Just like the craftiness we saw with Jahan Dotson’s game, Pickens consistently employs a spin move that he keeps on reserve for the precise moment after he collects a throw.
There’s one remarkable statistic from Pickens’ career that can easily go overlooked. He didn’t see a massive number of targets during his career, but the kid’s reliable hands would only allow two catchable throws to go unclaimed throughout his time in Athens. Between the amount of illegal contact Pickens endured and playing with the poor-man's version of Bennett prior to his surprisingly capable ‘21 season, we still found Pickens showing off his very competent ball tracking skills. He darts directly through his vertical targeting, truly vital toward NFL success.
It’s never wise to dilute a handful of examples into convincing yourself that a trait is complete. Following a self-fulfilling prophecy to force the evidence to fit a belief is just bad scouting. But this detail of Pickens' game is just impossible to push into a narrative. When the initial review of Pickens’ tape had been consumed, it was astounding to learn that all of one example could be located where Pickens was targeted after adjusting to his QB being forced on the move. On the play, GP was unable to get out of the grasp of Alabama’s Kool Aid McKinstry. As such, it’s just impossible to apply a grade to Pickens’ improvisational ability.
Just don’t be too quick to judge Pickens for never accounting for at least 1,000 receiving yards. Terrence Edwards is the only WR in UGA history to accomplish that feat after amassing 1,004 receiving yards back in 2002. That information may lessen the shock of learning that only two Georgia WRs have ever been drafted in the first round: Lindsay Scott (1982) and A.J. Green (2011). Digging deeper, only three have ever been drafted in the second round: Reggie Brown (2005), Mohamed Massaquoi (2009) and Mecole Hardman (2019). Even if we include TE, only 9.5% of the 63 first- and second-rounders ever drafted from UGA have been receivers.
The Bulldogs annually rank inside the top-five programs in the nation in consensus recruiting ranks. After Hardman was drafted, it seemed as though we would see that trend evaporate. When Smart took over as HC on December 6th, 2015, he was behind the eight-ball to bring in his recruits from the 2016 class. But he still managed to collect the consensus sixth-best collection of talent. In the last six seasons since, Georgia has recruited an average class rank of 2.33.
Pickens is going to be the next WR domino to be a high draft pick for the program. UGA lost Burton to Alabama, but they are still blessed with a long list of outstanding talent at receiver – Brock Bowers, Arik Gilbert, Darnell Washington and Oscar Delp at TE and Adonai Mitchell, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Arian Smith, Dominick Blaylock, De’Nylon Morrissette, Chandler Smith, Kearis Jackson and Ladd McConkey at WR. That historical draft reputation is about to be rewritten.
The NFL is starved for vertical threats to populate the league-wide shift toward schemes built out of spread and Air Raid principles. Pickens may not have the twitchy speed of a Chris Olave or Jameson Williams, but he will still be an important addition. If we don’t see Pickens land inside the final picks of the first round, he will be one of the first names called at the top of the second.
2020 Video Recommendations: Week 4 at Arkansas, Week 7 at Alabama, Week 12 vs. Mississippi State, Week 15 at Missouri and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl vs. Cincinnati
Optimal Landing Spots: With the impressive history of success from his coverage scheme profile, Pickens will make a seamless transition for all 32 teams
Film Review Comp (2020): Kenny Golladay
Overall Comp (Factoring size, athleticism, tape and level of collegiate production): DeVante Parker
To view Pickens’ data within the study of historical production for WRs pre- and post-ACL repair, go to the very bottom of Jameson Williams’ draft profile.