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George Pickens had surgery to repair an ACL injury.

All the ways the George Pickens injury alters Georgia’s championship hopes

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George Pickens injury impacts national title hopes for Georgia football

1. There’s no sugarcoating how much this injury stinks for George Pickens. Heading into his junior season, Pickens seemed poised to become one of the top wide receivers in the sport.

Instead, he’ll spend much of 2021 now working his way back from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. Georgia announced the injury news on Wednesday with head coach Kirby Smart offering his thoughts on the news

“The good news is that the MRI showed it to be an isolated injury with no other structures involved,”  Smart said.  “George is a hard worker. I know he will bring the same work ethic to rehab that he shows in practice every day.”

Related: George Pickens to have surgery on knee after ACL injury

Pickens had been Georgia’s top receiver in terms of yards and touchdowns catches in each of the past two seasons. While he did not statistically improve as a sophomore, his game really took off once JT Daniels became the starting quarterback.

In those final four games, Pickens hauled in 23 receptions for 373 yards and four touchdowns. Georgia won all four of those games as well.

This loss isn’t just devastating for Georgia but college football as a whole. Pickens was that much fun to watch.

Related: ‘Bye’ George Pickens, social media react to news of ACL injury

2. If there is a player perhaps most impacted by the Pickens injury, it’s Daniels. The two had an obvious connection last season and figured to only build on that in the offseason.

Even when Pickens wasn’t open, Daniels felt comfortable throwing it up to Pickens because the latter was gifted enough to at best come down with it and worst prevent the opposing defense from making an interception.

Now even more pressure falls on the shoulders of Daniels. He still has plenty of talent around him and Smart did publicly name Daniels the starting quarterback for Georgia this week.

If Georgia is going to win a national championship, Daniels was always going to have to be Georgia’s best player. But Pickens was certainly going to help ease his load that Daniels now shoulders.

3. As for the wide receiver room in particular,  two players figure to see an uptick in playing time and responsibility.

RelatedWhat’s next after George Pickens’ injury: Jermaine Burton’s role could increase

The most obvious is Jermaine Burton. The sophomore had a strong freshman season, with a 197-yard performance against Mississippi State being a better showing than Pickens ever had.

Burton seemed like a possible breakout candidate this spring due to his athletic gifts and his ability to grow this offseason as he enters his second season in the program.

“Last year we weren’t able to be very versatile, because Jermaine Burton was trying to learn one position,” Smart said. “Now, we’re training Jermaine Burton to learn both sides. He was the Z last year; he needs to be the Z and the X.  There’s so much little things where they are so much further ahead as far as knowledge.

The other name is redshirt freshman Justin Robinson. He’s the only receiver that offers a similar physical build to that as a Pickens. So far this spring, former Georgia wide receiver Terrence Edwards has heard good things about how Robinson has practiced.

Georgia will need the likes of Kearis Jackson, Arian Smith and others to do more in 2021 to try and replicate the numbers that Pickens did.

4. The injury to Pickens also puts a little more pressure on wide receivers Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. They both suffered season-ending injuries during the 2020 season and will be spending their spring practices working themselves back into shape.

“Both of those young men are running straight lines and beginning to increase their workload,” Smart said in early March. “They’re not working with us in our offseason conditioning program, meaning they’re not in the actual drill. They have to work separate, but they are increasing speeds.”

Related: Injured Georgia wide receivers ‘right on schedule for where they need to be’ before start of spring practice

With Pickens healthy, Georgia could afford to be cautious in bringing back the two talented wide receivers. Georgia won’t rush either of them to return but it does mean the Bulldogs are going to need to get a little bit more out of these two former top recruits.

It’s also worth noting Blaylock and Rosemy-Jacksaint are the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked wide receiver prospects Georgia has signed under Smart. Now with Pickens out, all three have suffered season-ending injuries during their Georgia careers.

5. Another way Georgia can supplant the loss of Pickens is by spreading more targets to the running backs and tight ends. At times last season, Georgia saw James Cook, John FitzPatrick and Darnell Washington emerge as useful weapons, albeit on small sample sizes.

The Bulldogs will clearly need to scheme up ways to get them more involved. Smart has remarked Georgia is well ahead of where the offense was a season ago and that will allow Georgia to get deeper into Todd Monken’s bag of tricks.

Monken did a great job of scheming players open last season and that will be even more paramount now with Pickens out. The tight ends and running backs figure to benefit the most with a deeper Monken playbook.

6. How Pickens responds and attacks rehab will go along way in determining if he is able to contribute to the 2021 team. Every ACL injury is different and it isn’t out of the question for Pickens to make a push to return late in the season.

But that implies that Pickens takes care of everything during his recovery process. As Smart laid out when praising cornerback Kelee Ringo, that isn’t always the case with players returning from injury.

“A lot of guys get injured and they check out,” Smart said. “He[Ringo] never checked out. He checked in. He sat in the front of the meeting. He answered questions every day

There’s also the fact that Pickens will be draft-eligible following this season. He could choose to declare for the NFL draft after this season, whether he plays again for Georgia or not. Pickens also obviously has the ability to return to school for another season if he decides to do so.

Pickens has some choices to make with regards to his future at Georgia. How he chooses to handle the next few months will speak volumes about himself, specifically to potential NFL teams.

7. For as problematic as this injury is for Georgia, the Bulldogs are well-positioned to deal with it. Pickens got hurt in the fourth practice of spring football. There is plenty of time to adapt the offense to cover for the loss of its most gifted playmaker.

The absence of Pickens also shouldn’t cost Georgia the SEC East. The Bulldogs are still superior to every team in the division and the Bulldogs will still be the favorite to make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship.

Where the Pickens loss will be felt most though will likely be in that SEC championship game, as well as the season-opener against Clemson. Looking at the last three national championship games, the winner has gotten at least 150 receiving yards from their top receiver. Justyn Ross had 153 yards against Alabama, Ja’Marr Chase racked up 221 yards against Clemson and Devonta Smith finished with 215 yards in the win against Ohio State.

Pickens had the best chance of reaching that level for Georgia. It’s not like the Bulldogs have a ready-made replacement that can do what Pickens did. The Bulldogs could look to the transfer portal to add a veteran at the position, but other than Jordan Davis and Daniels, there was not a more irreplaceable player from a talent standpoint than Pickens.

8. Smart and the Bulldogs talk about fighting through adversity all the time. With Pickens now out for at the very least most of the 2021 campaign, the Georgia team is now facing plenty of that.

This injury doesn’t prevent Georgia from winning a national championship. Georgia has more than enough time and talent to eventually overcome this injury. Alabama lost Jaylen Waddle last season and kept on humming on the offensive side of the ball.

But for a program that’s gone over 40 years without winning one, that task certainly gets harder in 2021 without the uber-talented Pickens.

How George Pickens injury impacts Georgia football title hopes

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