Georgia football-George Pickens-Malaki Starks
George Pickens tore his ACL this wee.

Best of DawgNation: What happens after George Pickens’ injury, Georgia stays hot on recruiting trail

Georgia was dealt a tough blow this week upon learning the news that talented wide receiver George Pickens will be out for the foreseeable future. The school announced the junior suffered an ACL injury that will require knee surgery.

Pickens had been Georgia’s top wide receiver in each of the past two seasons, leading the Bulldogs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns since arriving on campus.

DawgNation’s Connor Riley takes a look at what kind of impact the injury to Pickens will have on the Georgia team in 2021.

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

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

Georgia has plenty of time and talent to find a way to overcome the Pickens injury. But it’s undeniable that Georgia’s goals became tougher to accomplish with this Pickens news.

What the road back looks like for George Pickens

Georgia has been rather vague as far as a definitive timeline for Pickens and his recovery. And ultimately that might prove to be a good thing for Pickens and Georgia.

When speaking with reporters this week, Smart was optimistic at the possibility that Pickens could return during the season. The Georgia head coach brought up former defensive back Divaad Wilson, who tore his ACL in the spring fo 2018 only to return during the fall and play in Georgia’s bowl game.

DawgNation’s Mike Griffith chronicled what the road ahead looks like for Pickens and how he might potentially play a role on the 2021 Georgia team, even after the injury.

“Obviously, I think there’s a chance he’s back in 21,” Smart said during his Thursday Zoom call following the Bulldogs’ fifth practice of the spring. “We’ve had kids that have ACL injuries, I liken it to Divaad (Wilson). Divadd got his (ACL injury) when he first got here on the third day of spring practice.

“I think he was cleared to go somewhere around Florida week (end of October).”

Smart said Pickens has remained engaged with the team and is attending team meetings, including Wednesday’s unity meeting, which Smart refers to as skull sessions.

“We’ve worked on different DNA components each time we’ve met, (and) they’ve been really good, and it’s been really good for me,” Smart said. “You get to see the players in a different light, you get to share personal things. It’s a good group talk and it’s a good connection.

“George has been part of all of those. Ironically, our topic yesterday was resiliency, which was picked long before the injury happened to George,” Smart said.

In 2019, Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers suffered a torn ACL on March 25, just two days before Pickens tore his this year. Rodgers was able to come back and play starting in Clemson’s second game of the 2019 season. He finished the year with 30 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns for the Tigers.

Related: Georgia football WR George Pickens targeting return in 2021, Kirby Smart optimistic

If Pickens is to return in 2021 it will be because he took his rehab seriously, remained engaged and wanted to find a way to contribute to the 2021 Georgia football team.

How Darnell Washington can help replace George Pickens

Georgia might not have a player of Pickens’ caliber on the roster right now, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs are lacking potential playmakers either.

The Bulldogs were set to return their top seven pass catchers from the 2020 team to go along with all five running backs. Jermaine Burton figures to take a big step forward in his second year, while Kearis Jackson was already a leader at the position.

One player who could see a significant uptick in usage this fall is tight end Darnell Washington. DawgNation’s Brandon Adams chats with Jon Stinchcomb about what the future looks like for Washington and how Georgia can go about getting him involved this fall.

Smart also spoke about Washington and how the sophomore tight end has improved this offseason.

“He’s grown a lot. He’s a lot smarter. He’s in better condition. He’s in better mental toughness state. Part of being a good player is pushing through practice and being able to sustain. He struggled to sustain through tough practices last year. He’s done that this year. He’s practiced a little harder. He’s doing some good thing. He’s still really big. He’s 275, 280 pounds. He’s a different kind of matchup guy.”

Washington entered Georgia with a 5-star ranking. He’ll have a chance to live up to that ranking this fall.

Georgia lands 5-star prospect Malaki Starks

While the Pickens news was not great, Georgia did have a big week on the recruiting trail as it beat out Alabama and Clemson to land 5-star athlete Malaki Starks.

Starks is the No. 29 overall prospect in the 2022 recruiting class and the No. 4 player in the state of Georgia. His commitment moves Georgia back into the No. 2 spot in the 2022 rankings.

DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell caught up with Starks after his commitment to discuss why the Bulldogs were able to win this intense recruiting battle.

Related: Georgia coaches, fans energized after landing 5-star 2022 prospect Malaki Starks

“Georgia is right down the road,” Starks told DawgNation. “The first time I ever went to Georgia it clicked. It was like a relationship that I’ve never had with somebody before. That first time I met them. They are just really special to me.”

With that, let’s chronicle the things to know in any commitment story.

  • With his decision, this now means that Georgia has a trio of 5-star commitments in the 2022 class. Starks joins fellow 5-stars Gunner Stockton and Deyon Bouie with that distinction in Kirby Smart’s current crop. 
  • He becomes the ninth commitment in the class. Starks is rated as an athlete but is expected to be a free-roaming and menacing free safety during his time in Athens. There’s the off chance he adds more weight to his frame and becomes a heat-seeking Roquan at linebacker. Yet the depth chart needs rings louder for the back end of the defense rather than the middle of it. 
  • The 6-foot-1.5, 200-pounder has sub 11.00 speed in the 100 meters. He’s also becoming quite the long jumper. His decision also leapfrogs Georgia by LSU and Notre Dame into the nation’s No. 2 class for 2022 on the 247Sports Team Composite ratings. 

Georgia might not be done yet on the recruiting trail this week, as 4-star linebacker Jalon Walker is set to announce his decision on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Walker is the No. 50 overall player in the 2022 cycle and has a final three of Clemson, Georgia and North Carolina.

Landing Walker would give Georgia 10 commitments, with four of them ranking inside the top 50.

More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation