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A deep dive into UGA WR George Pickens: Why his tape creates some challenging NFL projections

A film session into UGA Bulldogs George Pickens

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

George Pickens, WR, Junior

George Pickens Relative Athletic Score with pre-draft testing numbers
ras.football

George Pickens Relative Athletic Score, provided by ras.football. See Hogs Haven’s previous breakdown on Pickens here.

Player Overview

Pickens is a junior who played in 24 career games at the University of Georgia. He played under Head Coach Kirby Smart during his time there, and he has played under his Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken since 2020. Under Monken, Pickens was asked to primarily run vertical routes like flys, posts, skinny-posts, hitch/curls, and breaking-in routes. Pickens has very good height and below-average weight for receivers.

College Stats

Injuries

2019 - None

2020 - Undisclosed Upper Body Injury (Two games missed)

2021 - Torn Acl (Spring Camp; Returned December 2021)

Strengths

Context: UGA vs. Alabama, Week 4, October 17, 2020. 1st and 10 @ UGA 34.

Analysis: Note the cornerback’s alignment here. Pickens has a very good release against Soft-Press coverage, starting with his initial plan to widen the defender. Next, Pickens stretches the defender laterally to open his hips before bursting upfield with very good acceleration, which threatens the defender, who ultimately thinks “fly route.” Pickens has a good swipe move with his hands to avoid contact when pressing vertically and good mental processing at the breakpoint by manipulating the defender’s blind spot and immediately creating an opportunity for the quarterback on his hitch route. Pickens then displays good hands-catching outside of his frame and a good adjustment coming back to the ball. After the catch, Pickens also displayed good YAC, shedding the first tackle with a spin move to get an additional 5-6 yards.

Context: Cincinnatti vs. UGA, Peach Bowl, Jan 1, 2021. 1st and 10 @ UGA 44.

Analysis: Like the previous play, Pickens has a very good release against a more aggressive Press look. Again, he stretches the defender laterally on a single move jab step to the outside, then uses very good acceleration in his stem and a good change of direction at the breakpoint of his hitch route, creating good separation and an opportunity for his quarterback.

Context: Cincinnatti vs. UGA, Peach Bowl, Jan 1, 2021. 1st and 10 @ UGA 25.

Analysis: This is how Pickens made his bread and butter with the Bulldogs. In a disguised coverage, the defender matching up in front of Pickens displays a press look but is in on a blitz, so Pickens ultimately faces an off-Man coverage. Pickens displays very good acceleration at the line of scrimmage, quickly erasing the cushion that the safety may have had initially. Pickens showcases very good separation quickness at the top of his Post route with very good mental processing to attack the Safety’s inside hip, forcing the defender to declare and commit to the flatter angle and leaving an opportunity for Pickens to work his blind spot. Pickens also displays very good explosion (and balance) at the breakpoint to stay up after his cleat comes off. Elite adjustment and competitive toughness to dive for the pass, elite hands due to concentration on the move.

Context: Alabama v. UGA, National Championship, January 10, 2022. 1st and 10 @ UGA 19.

Analysis: Like the previous play, Pickens runs another Skinny-Post against man coverage; this one is specifically against a Soft-Press look. Pickens threatens immediately with very good acceleration at the line, gaining inside leverage and stacking his defender near the breakpoint. Pickens has very good separation quickness at the breakpoint utilizing good play strength and good explosion to push off and maintain solid separation. At the catch point, Pickens shows elite concentration on an overthrown pass, extending beyond his frame, and very good concentration leaving his feet to secure the pass with his fingertips before reeling the ball into his frame before contact with the ground. Again, this is another example of very good competitive toughness at the catch point to make the play.

Weaknesses

Context: UGA vs. Alabama, Week 4, October 17, 2020. 3rd and 6 @ UGA 42.

Analysis: What can create problems for Pickens on the next level is his change of direction on breaking-in routes. Here, Pickens faces a free release on third down; however, he has a squat defender sitting at the sticks, taking away an inside break and ready to plant-and-go on any breaking-out/vertical route. His marginal separation at the breakpoint is primarily due to a marginal change of direction ability. There is no threat to the defensive back with no creative sell and a technically flawed bam step at the breakpoint.

Context: UGA vs. Alabama, Week 4, October 17, 2020. 1st and 10 @ ALA 46.

Analysis: Another common issue that pops up with Pickens is against aggressive Press situations. Here, Pickens' first steps are a means to gather information, so he buys time with a skip release at the line of scrimmage to see how his defender would play him. However, as the defender plays Pickens first steps well, the defender is also successful in getting his hands on Pickens, disrupting his route, and forcing him to the sideline. Maintaining the line as a receiver is very important. The “line” is between the sideline and numbers along the boundary. Receivers on the boundary need to have the play strength to fight through contact, and Pickens, in aggressive Press situations, shows marginal play strength in his stems to maintain his lines.

Scheme Fit

Pickens is a backup-level X receiver that you will ultimately win with as a deep area receiver utilizing his acceleration on full-speed routes like corners, flys, fades, posts, skinny-posts, and deep crossers.

Projection

Pickens will win as an X receiver in a spread scheme, primarily being asked to run full-speed routes. At the line of scrimmage, Pickens is effective against off-Zone and off-Man coverages due to above-average acceleration to close defender cushions. Pickens plays with above-average mental processing in his awareness to diagnose coverages, sit in the zone voids of defenses, and adjust to coverages to quickly create opportunities for his quarterback. Pickens also has success attacking defenders' hips and their blind spots. He showcased a nuanced plan in attacking defenders, specifically on his Skinny-Post routes and Hitch Routes against off-man coverages. Pickens has average separation quickness due to average play strength at the breakpoint with subtle push-offs that are effective for a short distance. He has good explosiveness at the breakpoint, planting at the top of his route to create a couple of yards of separation when attacking the deep levels of the defense.

Pickens displays a rare level of competitive toughness at the catch point. With a large catch radius, he’s as good as it gets when attacking the football or creating subtle, yet effective separation leaving his feet to secure a catch. He has very good concentration at the catch point. His competitive toughness also comes out with solid YAC ability with the ball in his hands.

Pickens will struggle against physical defenders, specifically against aggressive press defenders, and can get bullied at times as a boundary receiver. He displays marginal play strength at the line against soft-Press or Press Man and will need to develop in that area to become better with his release. Pickens also failed to maintain his lines when getting into his stem on several occasions. Additionally, Pickens has below average change of direction on Slant and In routes and will struggle to separate against defenders when asked to run them.

Conclusion: When a prospect breaks out to the degree that Pickens did as a Freshman in 2019, a ton of juice will follow them throughout the rest of their collegiate career. The intrigue that follows certain athletes is what’s happening with Pickens; there has been a decrease in yards, receptions, and touchdowns after his Freshman year. He’s suffered two notable injuries in 2020 and 2021, which impacted his numbers; however, his play on the field also decreased his opportunities.

So what is the best-case scenario for Pickens on the next level? How effective Pickens can be in the NFL depends on how valuable his 2020 and 2021 tape is to you compared to his Freshman season. Make no mistake, Pickens is an exciting prospect for a vertical offense. He has highlight-reel finishes at the catch point and good mental processing, so there’s potential to eventually develop into a number one wideout. However, Pickens will need to come off the bench as he transitions to the NFL. Pickens' receivers coach in the NFL will need to take the time to develop him as a more technical receiver that will make him more versatile and a viable threat on the short and intermediate levels.

Games watched: Tennesee vs. UGA, Week 3, October 10, 2020; UGA vs. Alabama, Week 4, October 17, 2020; Cincinnatti vs. UGA, Peach Bowl, Jan 1, 2021; Michigan vs. UGA, Orange Bowl, December 31, 2021; Alabama v. UGA, National Championship, January 10, 2022.

Watch George Picken’s full film breakdown below:

Thank God It’s Tuesday—Offseason On the Brink S3:E16

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