There was plenty of criticism leveled at Jim Chaney last year, much of it warranted, and much of it in this very space. It’s only fair then to point out one of the beleaguered offensive coordinator’s successes.
Isaiah McKenzie, heretofore under-utilized on offense by Georgia, became a focal point of the offense. The speedy junior led the team in every major receiving stat, and was the team leader in touchdowns scored. Chaney moved McKenzie around the field, lining him up in the slot, the backfield, and put him in motion in order to get him in space and get him the ball. Under Chaney, McKenzie became a dynamic offensive presence.
And then he left.
So while Georgia’s best receiver last year was at the NFL scouting combine, trying to show that speed is more important than height, a Georgia team that was already deficient in difference-makers at wide receiver prepares to enter the spring with major questions at the position.
Does the second-leading receiver of each of the previous two years (Terry Godwin) step into the void? Does one of the other holdovers (Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Michael Chigbu) emerge to have a big year? Or does it fall on the highly-touted incoming receivers (Jeremiah Holloman, Mark Webb, Trey Blount, Matt Landers) become an instant sensation?
The analysis at receiver is eerily similar to that of the other major question spot on offense: The line. It was a concern last year, loses key starters, and enters 2017 with plenty of options … but no guarantees.
Note: Breaking down the exact depth chart at wide receiver is always difficult because of alignments: Is it a two-receiver set, a three-receiver with a slot, a four-wide? For the sake of simplicity, we’ll go with a two-receiver depth chart, but one will have an emphasis on size and possession, the other on speed.
Note No. 2: The idea of “returning starter” is also a bit complicated because the starter is who lines up for the first play, which is usually just about that play. For instance, Jayson Stanley started five games last year but never had a catch. Chigbu started four games last year, Wims started twice, and Shakenneth Williams had a start. For simplicity’s sake, again, the lone returning “starter” is Godwin.
OK? OK. We proceed.
WIDE RECEIVER (SPEED/SLOT)
- Returning starter: Terry Godwin, Jr.
- Others returning: Riley Ridley, Soph.; Jayson Stanley, Jr.; Tyler Simmons, Soph.
- Early enrollees: Jeremiah Holloman, Fr.
- On the way: Mark Webb, Fr.; Trey Blount, Fr.
- Analysis: Godwin, expected to move into the No. 1 receiver role after Malcolm Mitchell’s departure, took second billing to McKenzie but did increase his numbers, from 35 to 39 catches and from 374 to 397 receiving yards. (Though he didn’t score any touchdowns, only seeing the end zone when he returned the onsides kick to seal the South Carolina game.) Godwin may be the most experienced receiver coming back, but that doesn’t assure him of much, considering this staff’s emphasis on height (Godwin is 5-foot-11). That doesn’t mean he’ll be relegated to a slot role in three-receiver sets, but Godwin will have to show out this spring and preseason to have a featured role. That said, he’s been the team’s second-leading receiver two straight years for a reason. Ridley, who was fourth on the team in receiving yards, has a chance to move into a much bigger role. Stanley – there’s no way to sugarcoat it – had some very visible dropped passes, and needs to show dependability. But he does have speed. So does Simmons, who saw limited time last year but is capable of big things. Then there are the new guys, with Hollomon on hand this spring.
- Bottom line: The wild card is Mecole Hardman, who Kirby Smart has indicated is likely to stay at cornerback, but could see time on offense. Otherwise, McKenzie’s departure leaves plenty of opportunity out there for guys who can get open and make plays. Georgia will be giving all the above guys a chance to show they can do that.
WIDE RECEIVER (SHORT FIELD/POSSESSION)
- Returning starters: None.
- Others returning: Javon Wims, Sr.; Michael Chigbu, Jr.; Shakenneth Williams, Sr.
- Early enrollees: Holloman.
- On the way: Matt Landers, Fr.
- Analysis: It’s a bit unfair to just call these guys possession receivers. Wims, for instance, showed great ability to get behind the defender last year on several throws. But it’s also unfair to call the above guys just speed threats. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s analyze the possession (another word for tall) receivers. The 6-foot-4 Wims showed flashes last year as a junior college receiver, and had an apparent rapport with Jacob Eason. Look for Wims to improve (perhaps double) on his 17 catches and 190 receiving yards from last year. Chigbu, when he wasn’t injured late in the season, may have had as many snaps as any receiver other than McKenzie: The 6-foot-2 Chigbu is big, a good blocker and picked up the offense well. The issue was how effective he was as a pass-catcher, hauling in nine passes but dropping a few as well. Still, there will be a place for him in this year’s offense, especially if he remains the best blocking wide receiver. Williams has seen only scant action in his career, and briefly tried cornerback last year. Landers, at 6-foot-5, will become the team’s tallest receiver, and thus will offer immediate intrigue once he arrives this summer.
- Bottom line: If you had to order Georgia’s wide receivers, starting with most catches in 2017, this reporter would hold his nose and go Godwin, Ridley, Wims, Holloman, Chigbu, Stanley, Simons, Webb, Blount. … But again, that’s a very preliminary guess and don’t hold me to that, unless it proves accurate.
Next: Running backs.
PREVIOUSLY IN DEPTH CHART ANALYSIS SERIES
Safeties | Cornerbacks | Outside linebackers | Inside linebackers | Defensive line | Place-kicking and kickoff specialist | Punters | Return specialists and long snapper | Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers | Tight ends