I’m not going to lie, I jumped up and down a bit when quarterback Mason Rudolph connected with rookie receiver George Pickens on that beautiful 26-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the Steelers' 32-25 victory over the Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday night.
I don’t often do things like that for Steelers preseason games at this point in my life, but I decided long ago that I was going to be on Team Mason when it came to who I would root for to be the team’s next starting quarterback. Why? As I’ve said before, it just feels cool to be on that team. It’s fun to be different and rebellious. Besides, Rudolph is the underdog in this battle with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned underdog story? Rudolph’s haters and doubters, that’s who, and it just felt so good to rub it in the faces of those folks after the fifth-year quarterback out of Oklahoma State dropped that perfect dime into Pickens’s waiting arms in the back corner of the end zone.
Ah, those tears were so sweet.
Anyway, I’m very immature, but you know who doesn’t seem all that immature? Pickens, the Steelers’ second-round pick out of Georgia in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s only been in camp for a few weeks, but it feels like he’s been around for years. What was it that George Bailey’s pop said to him in the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? “You were born older, George.”
The touchdown was quite the quick turnaround for Rudolph just minutes removed from being booed upon entering the game and then being booed even louder after having the ball stripped from his possession on his very first play. As Rudolph ran down the field to celebrate with Pickens after the score, I remember thinking to myself, “Rudolph sure was lucky to have old reliable George there to bail him out.”
It sure does feel like Pickens has arrived in Pittsburgh as the most pro-ready Steelers draft choice since 2017 when T.J. Watt was selected with the 30th overall pick. What did Mike Tomlin call Watt during his first training camp? A one-rep learner.
That’s the kind of rookie Pickens appears to be.
While I was elated and a bit surprised to see Rudolph throw such a perfect pass, I wasn’t the least bit shocked to see Pickens display such concentration while making that over-the-shoulder grab before almost effortlessly getting both feet in bounds.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that all of the things Pickens did on that play were tough, but they didn’t seem all that difficult for him.
Pickens displays so many wonderful traits for a receiver, from body control to great hands to precise route running. How can he be a rookie? He’s even a devastating blocker, as evidenced by how easily he deposited a Seahawks’ defensive back on his butt on a running play that wasn’t even on Pickens’s side of the field.
I just don’t understand how Pickens could have lasted so long in the draft. Yes, he suffered a torn ACL prior to his final season at Georgia, but I have a hard time accepting the fact that this factored so heavily into his draft stock, especially with the medical advances that have been made in the treatment of an injury that used to be devastating to a player’s career.
Oh well, I guess it’s best not to dwell too much on the “why” when it comes to how Pickens wound up in Pittsburgh with the 52nd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Fate is a funny thing, and it looks like it’s delivered a ready-made superstar rookie receiver to the gates of Acrisure Stadium.