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What It Means: Georgia wide receiver George Pickens suffers ACL injury, who will step up in his place?
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2021. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith)
The Georgia Bulldogs endured a huge blow on Tuesday when one of the program’s top receivers over the last two seasons, rising junior George Pickens, suffered a torn ACL during spring practice.
The Hoover, AL. native injured his right knee during a non-contact play during Tuesday’s practice. An MRI confirmed an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which will require surgery. He has already started his pre-op rehabilitation program under the supervision of the UGAAA sports medicine staff and a full recovery is anticipated.
“The good news is that the MRI showed it to be an isolated injury with no other structures involved,” said UGA head coach Kirby Smart. “George (Pickens) is a hard worker. I know he will bring the same work ethic to rehab that he shows in practice every day.”
Last season, Pickens dealt with an upper-body ailment for part of the season but finished it on a strong note. In 2020, he hauled in 36 receptions for 513 yards (which was good for second-most on the team) and six touchdowns. During his freshman season in 2019, Pickens led the team in receiving with 727 yards on 49 receptions and eight scores.
A full recovery from an ACL usually takes around up to a year to heal, so Pickens’ game against Cincinnati could have been his last as a Bulldog. Nevertheless, even though the loss is tough, it shouldn’t affect Smart’s gameplan for the passing attack moving forward. Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken still has a bunch of talented pass catchers on the roster, although now it’s just a matter of seeing who will step up in Pickens’ absence.
Earlier this spring, Smart talked about how rising sophomore Jermaine Burton was learning various positions at receiver, which was for this very reason in case of a sudden injury.
“We're a lot different offensively, they're doing things they didn't do until maybe halfway through the season last year,” Smart said last week. “We've got some young wideouts swimming, we've got some experienced wideouts that are still swimming because they're trying to learn multiple positions. Last year we weren't able to be very mobile because Jermaine Burton learned one position. We're trying to get Jermaine to learn both sides. He was the 'Z' last year, he needs to be the 'Z' and the 'X.' There are just so many little things that they're so much further ahead as far as knowledge”
In 2020, Burton caught 27 passes for 404 yards and three scores. As a freshman, the Lousiana native nearly averaged 15 yards per reception and 40 yards per game. His splits weren’t bad, either. Against Mississippi State, Burton had his breakout game by hauling in a season-high eight passes for 197 yards and two scores. The 6-foot, 195-pound youngster was expected to be the next guy up on the depth chart behind Pickens, regardless of an injury.
With Burton likely filling the role of the ‘X’ receiver, rising second-year Arian Smith could fit well in the ‘Z’ spot. In 2020, Smith only had two catches for 86 yards and a score in four games played. He dealt with an injury, but that didn’t hold back the speedster when he was on the field. Smith is a true burner on the outside and can turn on the jets quickly. In high school, he ran a 10.39 100-meter dash, which is very impressive for his age. Many believe that Georgia needs to find a way to use Smith more this season, so here’s the perfect chance with Pickens out of the picture.
Besides those two, Georgia returns its leading receiver (in terms of receiving yards) from a year ago in veteran Kearis Jackson, who had a breakout season in 2020. Jackson is a reliable target in the slot and is a physical presence downfield. The former Peach County product had 514 yards and three touchdowns last season. Georgia’s passing game became very dependent on Jackson last season when Pickens was out, so maybe the coaching staff can rely on him again. Others who could benefit this year in the slot are senior running back James Cook and sophomore wide receiver Ladd McConkey.
A huge question mark surrounding Georgia’s wide receivers room is if Dominick Blaylock can produce coming off consecutive ACL tears. As a freshman, he hauled in 18 receptions for 310 yards and five scores. That year, Georgia’s passing game wasn’t great, but Blaylock caught touchdowns in big games against Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Once he’s fully up to speed, Blaylock could be a reliable target for the Bulldogs.
Also returning from an injury is former four-star prospect Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who got hurt against Florida last season. Rosemy-Jacksaint has a chance to surpass Blaylock on the depth chart if he can hold it all together. Still, both of those guys are solid picks to help relieve some of the ease at the top of the lineup.
Finally, a huge positive, not just in this situation, but just in general, is the return of redshirt senior Demetris Robertson. The former five-star hasn’t lived up to his billing yet, although the potential is there. Robertson is a speedster that is a great route runner and has developed talent, but it’s just a matter of getting him the ball.
The Bulldogs also have a talented tight ends corps with Darnell Washington, John FitzPatrick and Brock Bowers. Ryland Goede is also talented, too.
What it means: Finally, in the end, Georgia should be fine without Pickens. It’s a terrible situation for both parties, although this is why coaches recruit. This is where signing that deep class in 2020 might pay off. I failed to mention rising sophomore Justin Robinson or the freshman that are coming in because the top of the list, coupled with the tight ends, is so deep. Plus, having J.T. Daniels under center with several arms behind him makes me all the more confident that UGA will be fine. Although, prayers to George Pickens and his family. We all wish him a speedy recovery.
(Photo credit for the second picture goes to Tony Walsh)