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George Pickens will look to play a bigger role in the Georgia offense in 2020.

Numbers show why George Pickens will be major key in unlocking Jamie Newman, new Georgia offense

Connor Riley

Most who follow Georgia football have not heard of Sage Surratt. But to new quarterback Jamie Newman, there were few players as important as Surratt in his time at Wake Forest.

This past season, Surratt emerged as one of the most productive receivers in college football. Through the first nine games of the season, he was the most productive wide receiver in the Power Five, hauling in 66 catches for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns. It came after a productive freshman season that saw him finish with 581 yards and 41 catches.

But Surratt suffered a season-ending upper-body injury in Wake Forest’s game against Virginia Tech. The next week, Newman had his worst passing performance of the season against Clemson. And Newman’s numbers dipped in the ensuing games, though he was also battling an injury of his own.

Naturally, when you are missing your best wide receiver your numbers are likely to get worse. But as ESPN’s David Hale dug up the numbers, and Newman was demonstrably better when having Surratt on the field than when he didn’t.

With Surratt on the field at Wake Forest, Newman completed 63.5 percent of his passes while throwing 29 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Without Surratt, Newman’s competition percentage dipped to 53.7 percent while tossing just six touchdowns to eight interceptions.

The situation that Newman steps into at Georgia, especially with the wide receiver room, isn’t exactly what Alabama had during the 2019 season. There’s a lot of potential in the room, but outside of one player, there isn’t much-proven production. This is part of the reason why the Bulldogs signed five wide receivers in the 2020 recruiting cycle, with three being top-100 overall prospects.

RelatedEven more pressure falls on the shoulders of Jamie Newman

Fortunately for Newman and the entire Georgia offense, George Pickens showed during his freshman season that he can fill a Surratt like role for the Bulldogs.

As a freshman, Pickens hauled in a team-best 49 catches for 727 yards and eight touchdowns. And he was usually doing it in spectacular fashion, showing off his elite athleticism to make a handful of spectacular catches.

Pickens ended the 2019 campaign on the highest of notes, as he caught 12 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.

He’ll enter his sophomore season with about as much hype as AJ Green once did. He’s that talented.

But Pickens’ freshman campaign wasn’t without its warts. He was suspended for the first half of the Georgia Tech game for an unspecified violation of team rules. In the second half of that game, he was ejected after slamming a Georgia Tech player into a wall. That ejection led to a suspension for the first half of the SEC championship game, where his presence was greatly missed.

If Pickens is going to have a Surratt-like impact on Newman’s game, he’s going to have to stay on the field for the Bulldogs.

Prior to the shutdown of spring practice and offseason activities, Pickens was showing continued growth, something Kirby Smart said he needed to continue to demonstrate after the Sugar Bowl performance.

“I thought that George (Pickens) was competing really hard and doing good things in the workouts,” Smart said. “He really liked the competitive side of things.”

Smart has also stressed the importance that Pickens will play in shaping the new-look offense. Newman isn’t the only addition Georgia has made to that side of the ball, as the Bulldogs also brought in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

And Smart stressed that the offense will only look as different — improved — as the skill players allow it to be.

“I think the biggest thing when you look for the difference is going to be who the playmakers are,” Smart said. “Last year D’Andre Swift was a feature presentation. Cager early in the season was that. Who are those guys going to be because every offense is built around who are those guys we have to get the ball too.”

It is interesting though that Smart mentioned Cager and the impact he had early on in the season for the Bulldogs last year. As he battled various injuries over the second half of the season, starting in the South Carolina game, the Georgia offense went into a nosedive.

No player felt Cager’s absence more than quarterback Jake Fromm. Through the first 10 games of Georgia’s season last year, Fromm completed 73 percent of his passes when Cager was on the field. Without Cager — who filled that Surratt role for Georgia — that number plummeted to 45 percent. And that was before Fromm had three more games completing less than 50 percent of his passes to end the season.

The numbers pretty clearly paint a picture of how much harder it is to produce without your top option. Georgia might have one of the best top options in the country in Pickens in 2020.

Smart listed Zamir White and James Cook as players who could possibly shape the offense. But Smart seems very comfortable listing Pickens as a major force on both Newman and the offense as a whole.

Related: Kirby Smart reveals 5 Georgia football players who impressed during offseason workouts

“We’ll have some really good players,” Smart said. “George is going to be good.”

For the Georgia offense to reach its apex, the Bulldogs are probably going to need that to be an understatement when it comes to Pickens.

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