It seems like every time Arian Smith does a Georgia workout, it produces some kind of head-turning moment.
A few weeks ago, it was because defensive back Kelee Ringo actually managed to produce a faster top speed than Smith.
This week, Smith reclaimed his top spot, by posting a top speed of 23.0 miles per hour at a Georgia workout.
Speed has always been Smith’s calling card. It’s why he was the No. 58 overall prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle and coveted by schools like Alabama and Georgia. It’s why he was able to run as a teammate of current Georgia track standout Matthew Boling at the Pan-Am games.
Smith’s game-changing speed is also what allows him to stand out in Georgia’s current wide receiver room. The Bulldogs bring back their top seven pass catchers from the 2020 team. That includes George Pickens, Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton, Darnell Washington and James Cook.
While all those previously mentioned names have their own strengths, none of them can match the speed that Smith has. It’s why Smith might have as much upside as any receiver in the room.
Smith’s speed is why he has ESPN put out a list of 2020 recruits who were poised for a breakout in 2021. For Georgia — which signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the 2020 cycle — Smith’s name was mentioned.
“Although it is a minuscule sample size, Smith finished the season with two catches for a staggering 43-yard average per catch,” ESPN’s Tom Luginbill and Craig Hubert wrote. “He’s an explosive play waiting to happen in the open field.”
Georgia didn’t get to use it much in 2020 due to a knee injury limiting Smith to just three games. In those games, he caught just two passes. Against South Carolina, it was a 31-yard touchdown. In the Peach Bowl win against Cincinnati, it was a 55-yarder.
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) January 1, 2021
Smith won’t finish the 2021 season with the same number of targets or receptions as Pickens or Jackson. But he could be just as valuable, even if Georgia doesn’t funnel him the ball like the Kansas City Chiefs do with Tyreek Hill.
Just the threat of Smith on the field should help open things up. His speed will force safeties to play deeper, opening things up in the running game. It should also make it more difficult for teams to double Pickens, as leaving one man to try and slow Smith seems ill-advised.
This is all predicated on Smith being able to get and stay on the field. In addition to surgery on his knee, he also had wrist surgery in 2020 though that was prior to the start of fall practice. If Smith is able to stay healthy and do what is needed to be a consistent presence in Georgia’s wide receiver rotation, the explosive plays should come.
The other side of that coin though of Smith’s unique speed is that Georgia doesn’t have a replacement for him on the roster. So if he does go down due to injury, the Bulldogs don’t have someone who can replicate what he brings to the offense. Cook can help replace some of that speed, but not with the same every-down capability.
The easy comparison to make with Smith is Mecole Hardman. He, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, was the last wide receiver Georgia had that brought the same type of speed to the offense. Like Smith, his freshman year impact was limited, though that can be chalked up to him playing cornerback.
Hardman’s absence has been missed in the past two seasons, with the passing offense cratering in 2019 and only rebounding late in 2020 once JT Daniels took over as the starting quarterback.
Daniels will be back in 2021, leading the Georgia offense. And if Smith takes the next step in his development, the Georgia passing offense could be as explosive on a consistent basis as Smith seems to be in these offseason workouts.
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