Georgia receiver George Pickens expected to take talents into 2022 NFL Draft

UGA's George Pickens hauls in a 52-yard pass in the win over Alabama. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
Curtis Compton

ATHENS — Georgia star receiver George Pickens is expected to publicly declare himself eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft, according to a league source.

There had been some speculation that Pickens was considering a return, provided he could secure enough NIL funds in addition to his deal with Tom Brady to make another year of college football make sense from a business perspective.

RELATED: Pickens one of 10 college athletes to catch deal with NFL Great Tom Brady

Underclassmen have until Monday to declare for the upcoming draft, and then they have 72 hours after that to reconsider and retract their names.

Georgia underclassmen Nakobe Dean and Travon Walker have been projected to be selected in the first round and are expected to declare themselves eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft.

CFP Championship Game Defensive MVP Lewis Cine has a decision to make on whether to return for another season at UGA, as does outside linebacker Nolan Smith.

Cine said at the press conference the day after the CFP Championship Game in Indianapolis he was enjoying the moment at the time and would announce his plans in the future.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett doesn’t seem to have many NFL prospects, but the 23-year-old redshirt senior indicated on Good Morning America on Tuesday that he plans on playing somewhere next season.

Pickens’ MVP performance in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor helped the Bulldogs salvage a Top 10 ranking, as he tied a school bowl record with 12 catches that netted 175 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive guru Dave Aranda explained that Pickens was such a force that when he was the defensive coordinator at LSU in 2019, his team had special packages designed just to contain the Georgia star wideout

RELATED: The Pickens Plan, why George is key to a championship season

“We had to make sure we pressed him,” Aranda, now the Baylor head coach, said. “We had a double coverage that we saved until halftime for him.

“We had a cloud coverage, wherever he was at, that we saved until after halftime, as well.”

Pickens thrived in when UGA offensive coordinator Todd Monken was still running his Pro Style Spread offense at the end of the 2020 season. He caught 23 passes for 373 yards the final four games after making just 13 catches for 140 yards the previous four games.

Pickens went to noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews for his ACL injury, carefully rehabbing under Ron Courson’s supervision at Georgia before beginning to run routes in practice in October.

Coach Kirby Smart made it clear the Bulldogs weren’t going to take any chances with Pickens’ health, ensuring he passed several strength and flexibility tests before he was cleared.

Pickens had targeted the Florida game, on Oct. 30, for his return.

Smart explained that while Pickens looked fast and fluid during the open portion of practices that media viewed, with his cuts sharper than other fully healthy receivers, UGA had stringent safeguards in place.

“He’s got to get his percentages on his knee, on his testing,” Smart said. “He’s got jumps, he’s got Cybex, he’s got about 15, 16 tests he does, and when he hits a certain percentage, we think he’ll be able to get cleared.”

Monken admitted he was thrilled to see No. 1 back on the field competing on Saturdays for the Bulldogs in November, December and January.

“George has done a fantastic job of working to get back, to give himself a chance to play at the back end of this season,” Monken said. “When I think back to the spring when he injured his knee and thinking, wow, what a disappointment for him and his development and for us. But he has done a fantastic job of trying to get back.”

RELATED: Todd Monken raves about Pickens’ return

Pickens had a minor setback before the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla., as he was forced to arrive a day later than the team on account of a COVID-19 quarantine.

Veteran Kearis Jackson said Pickens’ mere presence had a positive effect on the team.

“Everyone has seen George play and knows he’s capable of doing,” Jackson said. “He’s been a great addition to this team, him being able to come back from that injury has been tremendous for not only for himself, but for the team, as well, and just him being out there brings a different atmosphere to the game.”

Pickens finished this season with 5 catches for 107 yards in four games, his 21.4 yards per catch average second on the team to Arian Smith, who had 3 catches for 102 yards (34 yards per catch) in the four games he played before suffering a season-ending injury.

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