Ex-Steelers Starter Hints at Antonio Brown’s Negative Impact on George Pickens

George Pickens

Getty A former Pittsburgh Steelers defender shared why he thinks wide receiver George Pickens isn't seeing more targets this season.

It’s become rather clear in 2022 that one of the most talented players the Pittsburgh Steelers possess on offense is rookie wide receiver George Pickens. But despite his obvious talent, Pickens doesn’t have much more than half as many targets as fellow receiver Diontae Johnson does this season.

Former Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats says there could be a couple reasons for Pickens’ lack of involvement in the offense, one of which is an interesting take he shared on December 16.

“I think that they’re trying to allow him to just earn it versus just forcing it to him, which they could,” Moats said while appearing on 93.7 The Fan on December 16. “They could have been targeting him ten times a game because he’s open and rightfully so.

“But I do feel like, at times, because of the history they’ve had with certain celebrity receivers, that, yeah, they want to make sure to take their time developing me. Taking their time putting him in that limelight. Taking their time getting him on that page. And I think that’s legitimate.”

Pittsburgh has been home to several prima donna wide receivers over the last couple decades, but the most notable of which was Antonio Brown.

Despite arriving in Pittsburgh as a sixth-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Brown became a Pro Bowl player by his second season. Before the 2012 season, he received a big contract extension just after his 24th birthday.

Brown rose to superstardom, becoming a four-time All-Pro from 2014-17. He also made seven Pro Bowls with the Steelers, but his tenure in Pittsburgh ended prematurely when he reportedly engaged in a heated disagreement with a teammate and missed multiple meetings before Week 17 of the 2018 season.

Brown Impacting Pickens’ Development?

With the first part of his answer about Pickens’ targets on 93.7 The Fan, Moats seemed to be implying that head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers are developing their rookie receiver with every intention of avoiding another Brown situation.

There’s two obviously different ways to view that hot take.

As previously mentioned, Pittsburgh has held a reputation as a home to diva receivers. Part of the reason could be Tomlin’s coaching style.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported in January 2019 that Tomlin and the Steelers “tolerated” Brown’s tardiness to meetings and other shenanigans for years because of his production.

In other words, the Steelers enabled him, which over the years just emboldened Brown to further bend the rules.

Seeing as that strategy eventually led to an ugly divorce between the Steelers and Brown, Tomlin would be wise to take a different approach with Pickens. Forcing any player, no matter how talented, to earn his targets and opportunities is not a bad thing.

The flip side of that coin is the potential cost to the team. If Pickens’ is open for big plays down the field, don’t Tomlin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada owe it to the organization and fan base to do whatever it takes to win?

Pickens’ development shouldn’t come at the cost of winning games.

Moats Explains Other Reasons Why Pickens Hasn’t Seen More Targets

The former Steelers linebacker had more reasons — other than Pittsburgh’s previous experience developing big personalities at receiver — as to why Pickens isn’t getting more targets. Moats added that game flow and the mindset of the quarterback are big contributing factors to Pickens’ number of targets as well.

“Kenny [Pickett] is making better decisions, but he’s also become a little more conservative. So with that, you’re going to get better game play, better game management, and it’s helping them get out of stadiums [with wins],” Moats said. “But that’s also turning into him not taking as many chances down the field for 50/50 balls.

“That’s also a big reason why Diontae is getting more targets than a George Pickens.”

Johnson has received 113 targets versus Pickens’ 64 this season. Pickens is only ahead of Chase Claypool in targets with the Steelers this season by 14, and Claypool played his final game with Pittsburgh before Halloween.

Pickens saw 3 targets, catching all 3, and registered a career-high 26.0 yards per catch with Mitch Trubisky behind center for most of Week 14. But with a more aggressive mindset from Trubisky, the veteran quarterback also threw 3 interceptions.

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