George Pickens’ visit to KC Chiefs adds first-round curveball to draft

The news that the Kansas City Chiefs will host wide receiver George Pickens presents a very interesting curveball for the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

For the last several weeks (or even months), the Kansas City Chiefs have been linked with a handful of potential wide receiver prospects as the team looks to the future at the position—and that was even before they traded away the best offensive weapon in the game in Tyreek Hill. Within that list of prospects has Georgia wideout George Pickens, whose draft stock seems to land somewhere in the bottom half of the first round or the top half of the second of the 2022 NFL Draft.

On Thursday, the Chiefs will host Pickens for a formal pre-draft visit, one of 30 allotted visits provided for each franchise. It’s a big move for a player to get a visit because it means—at least most of the time—that the team has a very real interest in the player and they want to either cement that interest with a closer look or further conversations or that they want to know more about a player’s medicals or troubled past.

This visit for Pickens, however, is a first-round curveball for the upcoming draft—not only for the Chiefs but other franchises as well. This is the time of year when there’s also a lot of smoke, with fake rumors and conflicting scouting reports coming through teams and agents. So when we say that the visit means a lot most of the time, it’s impossible to tell for sure what the Chiefs are trying to do here.

On the surface, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Pickens is a big, fast target with a history of serious production against elite competition. Of course, the Chiefs have interest in a physical 6’3″ guy who can run a 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds with excellent hands and length.

Even more, Pickens is coming off of a year mostly lost to injury after he suffered a non-contact torn ACL in spring practice for Georgia. It cost him all but four games in 2021 and came at a horrible time in terms of exhibiting what he could do. He could very well have been the top wideout off the board with a strong showing but instead, his year became about returning to the field at all. The Chiefs likely want to get a better look at medicals.

Now that the Chiefs have two first-round picks—back to back at No. 29 and 30—Pickens is a common selection in mock drafts for them to replenish the position in a rich draft. At the same time, there are other teams wanting to add some significant firepower to the mix as well—teams with picks in front of the Chiefs.

It’s here that the whole “Pickens in for a visit” news becomes a real curveball. Some teams do not like to telegraph their interest in a top prospect with a visit because it alerts other teams that there’s a very real possibility that a guy like Pickens could be the selection. If a team at the top of the second round—say the Detroit Lions—were interested in Pickens and wanted to trade back into the first at No. 28 or earlier to get ahead of K.C., that becomes a real problem.

Remember, the Chiefs and every other team have already had significant time to get to know draft prospects like Pickens. Yes, they need to do their due diligence and learn as much as they can, but Pickens would have provided the Chiefs with medical reports and in-depth conversations at other points in the pre-draft season—from his Pro Day at Georgia to the NFL Combine. Bringing him in is akin to turning on the Bat-Signal saying “We like George Pickens.”

But perhaps that’s the ruse all along. Maybe the Chiefs are wanting to create as much action at wide receiver in front of them as they can so other positions—say edge rusher—fall as far as possible in the draft order. Remember that wideouts are plentiful in this year’s draft and missing out on Pickens or Chris Olave in the first isn’t a dilemma when Skyy Moore and Christian Watson are available in the second. If the Chiefs want to ensure that the Green Bay Packers or Arizona Cardinals go wideout, bringing in Pickens for a visit is a fun bit of news to drop.

Either way, we’re not going to know how real the interest is for the Chiefs until draft weekend, which is what makes all of this so fun for the rest of us—and why the NFL knows it’s best to drag all of this out for as long as possible.