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Pickens brings finesse and physicality

If receiver George Pickens had his way, he would have been on the field, with his helmet and pads on, ready to play the day after he was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

"Everything was still spinning a little bit, but I am ready to play," said an enthusiastic Pickens just outside the Steelers locker room and steps from the practice field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex less than 24 hours after being drafted. "I really am ready to play. I am so glad to be here and be a part of the team.

"After the emotions of draft day get going, you wish you could just play right now. But reality, I have to wait, figure out the team, the staff. Just take my time."

Those draft day emotions were something Pickens wasn't certain how they were going to hit. He was at home with his family, watching the draft like everyone else, just waiting for the phone to ring.

And when it did, and Coach Mike Tomlin was on the other end, it hit alright.

"It was wow," said Pickens. "Really the craziest thing was seeing it on television. I mean, the phone call was crazy, too. But your family gets to see it on television. That's really the most exciting part. I was there with all my family, my mom, dad, brother, uncle and aunt, grandmother, friends. They were going crazy. My family is one of those families that they already told me to be prepared for this day. They were really just excited.

"Now, let's get started."

Pickens and his fellow rookies will get started next week when the team holds their three-day rookie minicamp. It will be a chance for them to get on the field for the first time as a group, and for the coaches to see what they can do in a professional football setting.

One thing he wants to show is that he can bring a lot to the receiving corp. Pickens missed some playing time in the 2021 season after suffering an ACL injury in the spring, playing in just four games and finishing with five receptions for 107 yards. In three seasons, though, he finished with 90 receptions for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He loves the physical style of play the Steelers offense has and doesn't mind it one bit when he is called upon to block.

"They're real physical. That's really the biggest thing. Aggressiveness," said Pickens. "That's one of the biggest models of their game. That is really one of the bigger things in my game. I'm always physical. And I'm always finesse. You put those two together, you create a Steelers mentality like the receivers they already have now."

There are highlights of Pickens blocking all over social media, including one against Michigan where he takes down a defensive back. It's something he welcomes, an opportunity to make an impact when the ball isn't coming in his direction.

"To be honest with you it's a thrill," said Pickens. "When you're not catching the ball and you are out there, you don't have a route, it's a running play. The guy in front of you is the guy you're blocking. Blocking really ups it more to where you can make it fun and more entertaining. Kind of push them to the ground, go get the safety and move around the field faster."

Pickens is coming to a position where there was a lot of turnover this offseason, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud all leaving via free agency. He joins fellow receiver Calvin Austin III, who was selected in the fourth round, in adding depth and explosion to the group, and he feels his time playing at the University of Georgia in the SEC has him ready to go at the next level.

"The competitive level at Georgia and in the SEC is so high," said Pickens. "Half of the guys that were on the team last year were all drafted. I had 14 of my teammates just drafted. Practice every day was elite. Being in the SEC gets you the most prepared for this competition."