By Jeremy Hritz
On August 9th, Steelers beat writer Chris Adamski of the Tribune Review tweeted “I don’t wanna say the George Pickens hype train has left the station and just might be running off the proverbial rails… but I heard a former player say he “reminds me of Randy Moss” today.”
Whoa. That’s a serious comparison there. And while we don’t know who the former player is, Adamski thought enough of the comment to tweet it out.
Undoubtedly, Pickens has been a shining star during training camp, no matter who has been playing quarterback, demonstrating contortionistic body control, combat-catch ability, and more-than-adequate speed to get behind defenders. That’s quite the combination of performance attributes, and if Pickens can live up to the preseason hype even fractionally, the Steelers will have a quality player on their hands.
Since the comparison was made between Pickens and Moss, I decided to look a bit deeper at both players’ high school and collegiate production, in addition to Moss’s NFL rookie season statistics to try and find some insight or validity to this assertion.
High School Statistics of Moss and Pickens
I had trouble tracking down Moss’s high school stats, but was able to locate a stat line for his senior year in 1994: 39 receptions for 808 yards (21 yards per reception) and 14 touchdowns. Pickens on the other hand during his senior year had 69 receptions for 1368 yards (20 yards per reception) and 16 touchdowns.
These stat lines were somewhat comparable, with Moss slightly leading in average yards per reception, while Pickens led in number of receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The production of both players was solid, though Pickens total yard was almost double that of Moss.
College Statistics of Moss and Pickens
In college, it wasn’t as similar as it was in high school in terms of comparable stat lines; however, you could make the argument that the level of competition for Moss at Marshall was not nearly as challenging as what Pickens faced in the SEC while playing at Georgia. Moss’s college statistics dwarf Pickens, with nearly 3 times as many yards, twice as many receptions, and 4 times as many touchdowns. These serve as a reminder of the otherworldly player that Moss was while at Marshall.
It’s worth noting that Pickens’ 2021 was cut short due to injury, and you have to wonder what type of production he would have put up had he stayed healthy.
NFL Rookie Season Statistics for Randy Moss
Even in the NFL, Moss was still able to average 19 yards per reception even as a rookie, and he went on to have one of the best seasons for a first-year receiver ever. The statistics don’t do justice to the dominance that Moss displayed in year one, as he easily got behind receivers and made circus catches for big gains and touchdowns at will.
So What Does It All Mean?
Moss was a once-in-a-lifetime player who dominated at every level of play. While there are some similarities statistically and athletically, there is a significant gap between the production of Moss and Pickens at the collegiate level. While the only thing that matters at this point is what Pickens does in his first season in the NFL, to conjecture that he is on the level of the elite Moss is a bit premature. And while Pickens is assuredly talented and primed for a prolific rookie season, we should calm down and back off the comparisons with NFL-Hall of Fame receivers.
The Steelers were in need of deep speed and a production in down-the-field receptions: Pickens fills that need. However, let’s give this kid some room for growth and development and not put the pressure on his to play at the level of an elite professional receiver. If he can, great, but we have to remember this is a Steelers offense in transition playing under the leadership of a new quarterback.
Does Pickens have what it takes to play at a near-Moss level? No question. Can he? That’s a different story. If he does, the 2022 Steelers may be a playoff team after all.