Following the trade to acquire DeVante Parker from the Miami Dolphins, the top of the New England Patriots’ wide receiver room appears set. Parker and fellow wideouts Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor will be the team’s top-four at the position in 2022 — unless some other changes are made.
The most prominent would be adding another body to the equation through the upcoming draft. Several able candidates can be found throughout all seven rounds and free agency, but Day 2 might be the sweet spot for the Patriots: quite a few wide receivers projected to be picked in that range are high-upside options available at a comparatively small cost.
One of them is Georgia’s George Pickens, a player who has “value” written all over him.
Name: George Pickens
Position: Wide receiver
School: Georgia (Junior)
Opening day age: 21
2021 season: 4 games; 5 catches, 107 yards
Size: 6032, 195 lbs, 32 3/8 arm, 77 3/8 wing span, 8 3/4 hand
Expected round: Late 1st-Early 2nd
Strengths: Pickens missed the majority of his 2021 junior campaign due to a torn ACL suffered during spring workouts, but he was on his way to becoming a first-round pick before the injury. It is not hard to see why: he offers some impressive height and combines it with some of the best hands in the entire class. He has a natural feel for tracking passes in the air, and the physicality to position himself favorably against defensive backs.
And let’s make no mistake about it, Pickens faced some quality cornerbacks in the SEC. Despite that, he was outstanding before his torn ACL. Leading the Bulldogs in receptions as both a true freshman and sophomore, he caught 85 passes for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020 — all while starting only 10 games between those two seasons.
George Pickens' drop rate is great, but combined with a reel of absurd, spectacular catches makes it special.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 18, 2022
Best hands in the draft?pic.twitter.com/Qph96UqMFF
Pickens may not be a burner — he ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine — but he has some good acceleration and impressive agility for a guy his size. This and his fluid route-running allows him to get open quickly versus press-man, and also to be used in a variety of ways. While primarily an X-receiver at Georgia, he could also find success as a big slot or in a Z role.
George Pickens adjust 35 snaps and 10 total targets this season due to injury.— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) April 13, 2022
He had three first downs, and all three are incredibly impressive. ( ️⬇️)
Pickens is our 3rd ranked WR. Elite upside. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/t3uOFCEln2
Weaknesses: The biggest red flag with Pickens is his injury history. Not only did he miss the first 11 games of his junior campaign after tearing his ACL and was limited upon his return, he also had to sit out a couple of games the previous season because of an upper-body injury in 2020. Pickens’ medicals will be a major factor impacting on his draft grade.
Furthermore, he is continuing to grow into himself. His route-running can still be improved, and he might benefit form adding more bulk to his rather lean frame to hold up against the physically superior cornerback play he will encounter in the NFL. As a result, his downfield blocking also has plenty of room for improvement.
What would be his role? If selected by the Patriots late in the first round or early in the second, Pickens would come in and initially serve as the number two X-receiver option behind DeVante Parker. His longer-term outlook is that of a WR1: Pickens has immense potential and the traits to develop into a legitimate starter on the outside.
Does he have positional versatility? Pickens was used primarily as an X during his three-year college career. For comparison, under eight percent of his snaps came aligned in the slot. He does project as an outside receiver at the next level as well, but his burst into his routes might also allow him to become a productive player if used as a Z-receiver — thus not aligning on the line of scrimmage — as well from time to time.
Who is his competition? Pickens would not face any competition for a roster spot. As far as playing time is concerned, he would compete primarily against the other Xs on the Patriots’ roster: DeVante Parker as the starter, and depth options Nelson Agholor (a potential Z as well), N’Keal Harry (a realistic candidate to play on a different team in 2022), and Kristian Wilkerson.
Why the Patriots? With former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry never developing into the starting-caliber X-receiver the Patriots hoped they would get, they have a need for a new developmental prospect with serious upside. Pickens has just that, and could solve the team’s issues on the outside for years to come. He is an exceptional talent and would be a high-value pickup if selected at one point in the second round.
Why not the Patriots? After the Harry debacle, the Patriots might shy away from investing in a wideout that is a somewhat uncertain projection: will he be the George Pickens of 2019-2020, or will his ACL tear be a career-altering event? Furthermore, there is a chance that he is not around when New England is on the clock: Pickens being on the board until pick No. 54 in the second round seems unlikely, so the Patriots would either have to move up to get him or use their first-rounder as an investment or trade-down asset.
Verdict: The Patriots are in a comfortable position as far as potentially drafting Pickens is concerned. The addition of DeVante Parker via trade and the return of fellow boundary receiver Nelson Agholor allows them to take a developmental route with any rookie wideout they add. This, in turn, would allow New England to give the Georgia product time to get his feet under him and slowly integrate him into their system. While this approach would be marked by patience, it might be worth it given Pickens’ immense talent and upside.