The Georgia Bulldogs hoped to make it back to the College Football Playoff in 2020, but poor quarterback play and a difficult schedule kept them from even winning their division. An early loss to Alabama hurt their hopes, and a bad game against Florida was the nail in the coffin.
Once Georgia solved their quarterback problem, they turned a corner. As always, Bulldogs fans believe this will be Georgia’s year. They return plenty of defensive starters and their starting quarterback. They also return George Pickens, one of the best receivers in 2021.
In 2020, Pickens was the scoring threat for Georgia’s passing game. He led the team in receiving touchdowns and averaged 14.3 yards per catch. The bad news is that Pickens might be unavailable this season. An ACL tear will keep him from playing at the start of 2021. Depending on the severity of his tear, he might be out for the entire season.
Georgia’s odds to win it all currently sit at +575. How does the Pickens injury impact Georgia’s hopes of winning a national championship next year?
Pickens’ Impact on the Game
In 2020, Pickens tied for the most receptions on the team and was one yard away from most receiving yards. However, he only averaged 4.5 catches per game. While he might not rack in a ton of targets, he can certainly make them count when the rock is thrown his way.
Pickens has explosion and strength, so he is a great target in the red zone. If there is a contested catch on the line, he will rake it in. In tough games, he was able to take pressure off the shoulders of the quarterback.
With a full season of J.T. Daniels under center, one would assume that Pickens would see better stats. Stetson Bennett was not willing to take risks, but Daniels can make those tough throws to give Pickens a shot. At the end of the day, that’s all he needs.
The problem with Pickens is that he has a tendency to get distracted. He was suspended in 2019 for getting into a fight with a defender, and he was seen squirting water on an opposing player on the sideline. These types of things can harm the team, and they limit his availability and impact.
Who Will Step up in His Absence?
To realize how important George Pickens is, you have to also know who will be stepping up with him off the field. Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson had significant impacts in 2020, and both return for 2021. Jackson works in the slot, so he can make plays underneath and use his speed to get yards after the catch.
Fans will be hoping to see more of Darnell Washington at tight end this year. He was one of the top prospects, and he can add a new facet to the Georgia passing game. The Bulldogs also use running backs in the passing game. Look for Zamir White and James Cook to have increased roles in 2020.
All of these players have their own way of impacting the game, and it will take a collective effort to replace someone like George Pickens. I would also expect to see more of Demetris Robertson in 2020. Pairing this talent with a full season of Daniels might be enough to negate the loss of Pickens.
What to Expect without Pickens
Losing a star receiver hurts, but Georgia’s offense was not solely dependent on his production. They relied more on offensive line play and a solid defensive front than one electric receiver.
In 2021, Georgia’s ability to succeed will fall on the quarterback’s shoulders. He still has weapons around him. Daniels proved at the end of last year that he can distribute the football evenly. It will hurt to be without Pickens, but Georgia is just as capable of winning next year.
That being said, I had low hopes for them even with Pickens. They have a tough schedule, and they still haven’t proven that they can compete with Alabama football in the SEC. With no new reason to believe they can get past that major hurdle, their ceiling remains second-best in the SEC in my eyes.