Should You Start George Pickens Vs. The Browns?

The deeper we get into the season, the more hesitant I am about starting players on Thursday night. This week, we have the Pittsburgh Steelers traveling to Cleveland to take on the Browns, which means we need to talk about Steelers WR George Pickens. What is Pickens’ fantasy value this week, and should you start him against the Browns on Thursday night?

George Pickens’ fantasy outlook against the Browns

I’m a big fan of Pickens’ talent. His upside is immense. One day, perhaps even as soon as later this season, he will be an impact player in fantasy football. However, through two weeks, he’s been anything but.

Pickens has commanded exactly three targets in each of his first two games. He’s caught one pass in each of them for a total of 26 yards. For Pickens to be startable in fantasy lineups, he’s going to need to earn more volume. The problem is that I’m not sure how that happens.

Part of that is because of fellow WR Diontae Johnson. So far, it’s been more of the same for him. He’s seen a 31% target share and remains the alpha target hog he was last season. That’s problematic for any Steelers’ receivers not named Diontae.

Through two games, QB Mitch Trubisky has targeted wide receivers at just a 58.5% clip. If 31% of that is going to Johnson, that leaves less than 30% for the rest of the receivers. WR Chase Claypool is firmly second at 17%. Unsurprisingly, Pickens is left out in the dust at just 8.6%.

Should fantasy managers start George Pickens?

The Steelers almost exclusively run 11 personnel. In Week 2, Claypool led the Steelers with 54 snaps played. Johnson played 51 and Pickens 50. Claypool and Johnson ran 38 routes, while Pickens ran 36.

In terms of offensive deployment, Pickens is right up there with Johnson and Claypool. The problem is he’s not commanding targets. Pickens is basically out there running wind sprints.

The fact that Pickens is on the field and running just as many routes as Johnson and Claypool is encouraging. Given Pickens’ talent, the targets should come eventually. However, until they do, fantasy managers cannot trust him in lineups.

Pickens currently sits at WR69 in our Week 3 wide receiver rankings, putting him well outside the parameters of starting wide receivers in even the deepest of fantasy leagues.

Teams facing the Browns target the wide receiver position at about the league-average rate. As such, we can reasonably expect the Steelers to run their offense the same way they have through the first two weeks.

Pickens just isn’t yet a priority for Trubisky. Until we see something change in his usage, we recommend that fantasy managers leave him on benches.

Jason Katz is a Fantasy Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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