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George Pickens figures to lead the Georgia wide receiver group.

UGA’s 2020 wide receiver room resembles that of past College Football Playoff teams

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What should the statistical expectations be for Georgia football freshman wide receivers?

A season ago, George Pickens turned a lot of heads. He dazzled with a number of athletic catches and over the course of the season he went to become Georgia’s best wide receiver in both ability and statistical production, as he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches.

He did all that in his first year on campus, creating many “My God, a freshman,” moments.

Part of the reason for Pickens’ strong first season is because of the need at the wide receiver position. The Bulldogs had to replace four of their top five pass-catchers from the previous year, and the position group was ravaged by injuries.

He also had a good bit of talent already coming into the program. For the leaps he made over the course of the 2019 season, he did arrive in Athens, Ga. as a 5-star prospect and one of the top wide prospects in the 2020 recruiting class.

Related: Kirby Smart explains how George Pickens has improved and why he needs more help

Heading into this season, Pickens is the unquestioned star of the wide receiver group. But he’s also the only known quantity in the group. Dominick Blaylock is coming off a torn ACL, while Demetris Robertson has never lived up to that same 5-star billing nor his freshman season at Cal, where he posted numbers similar to Pickens albeit in a much more pass-happy offense.

That’s why the Bulldogs brought in five wide receivers as a part of the 2020 signing class. While none of them were ranked as high as Pickens, three of them were among the top-100 overall players in the class using the 247Sports Composite rankings in Marcus Rosemy, Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton.

“Wide receiver was an area that we had to address and I’m excited about the wide receivers that we have as additions to this signing class and those guys are expected to help us,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said on National Signing Day.

With Pickens as a clear alpha, Georgia won’t need any of them to do what he did a season ago. But it will likely need some production from the trio, given what Georgia is lacking at the position.

So what those numbers look like? And how have similarly talented freshman wide receivers done in year one? Well after digging through the recent data, it’s clear that Pickens’ freshman season is even more extraordinary and that expectations for the wide receivers should be a little bit lower.

Since the 2016 recruiting class, there have been 60 wide receivers who ranked as a top-100 overall prospect. Of them, only three had more receiving yards a freshman than Pickens. Only 11 of the 60 had more than 400 receiving yards.

Top freshman wide receiver seasons since 2016

Player Year Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Justyn Ross 2017 46 1,000 9
Demetris Robertson 2016 67 767 7
Amon-Ra St. Brown 2017 60 750 3
George Pickens 2019 42 727 8

Players like Pickens or Clemson’s Justyn Ross — the only player in the data range to top 1,000 yards as a freshman — are very clearly the outliers in the group. The average season from a top-100 wide receiver over the past four seasons is 13.35 receptions, 204.85 receiving yards and 1.86 touchdowns. For a point of comparison, 10 had zero catches yards or touchdowns in their respective freshman season.

Had Blaylock not torn his ACL, there’s probably less of a need for Georgia’s young wide receivers to be ready right away. But that’s not the world that currently exists. The delayed start to the 2020 season should help Blaylock along with the young wide receivers better prepare for the rigors of the upcoming season.

In addition to Pickens topping that a season ago, Blaylock also posted superior numbers to that of his average counterpart, as he caught 18 passes for 310 yards and five touchdowns. So it has been done before where a team has been able to get an above-average season from multiple freshman wide receivers.

Related: The 4 types of Georgia football players who benefit the most from a delayed start to 2020 season

Rosemy was the No. 55 overall player, Smith the No. 59 player and Burton the No. 81 player in the 2020 rankings. The trio will get 25 practices to get up to speed before Georgia’s first game on Sept. 26.

Smith in particular figures to benefit quite a bit from the longer preseason, as he is recovering from meniscus surgery he had in July.

The Bulldogs aren’t the first program in recent years to try and have a massive infusion of elite talent at the wide receiver position. Georgia is actually the fourth team since 2016 to sign at least three wide receiver prospects who rate as top-100 prospects in the same class. Ohio State also did this season.

The two previous teams to accomplish the feat though did make the College Football Playoff.

The Oklahoma Sooners did it a season ago in bringing in Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges. The three of them combined had fewer receptions yards and receiving touchdowns than Pickens did last year. But when you factor in the Sooners having Ceedee Lamb, it’s easy to see why none of them topped 300 yards or 20 receptions as an individual. Don’t be surprised if that’s what the numbers end up looking like for Burton, Rosemy and Smith this season.

Top-100 freshmen receiving totals by yards

Yards No. of wide receivers
700-1,000+ 4
500-699 4
300-499 7
100-299 15
0-99 30

The other team to do it was 2017 Alabama. The Crimson Tide brought in Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs all as a part of the 2017 signing class.

None of them had a season even as good as Blaylock did a season ago. Jeudy went 14(receptions)/264(yards)/2(touchdowns). Ruggs went 12/229/2. Smith ended up going 7/156/3.

But every Georgia football fan knows that those freshmen still made some spectacular plays over the course of that season, especially Smith.

More so than specific numbers, Georgia will need the likes of Rosemy, Smith and Burton to make plays when called upon. That’s what the Bulldogs really need from the group.

“We have some wideouts that we got to have got involved to be as successful as we want to be,” Smart said in April. “So how successful will we be? That will be based on who those playmakers are.”

The aforementioned 2017 Alabama group got quite a bit of help from Calvin Ridley, who finished just shy of 1,000 yards that season before becoming a first-round pick. Many Georgia fans expect Pickens to do those very same things in due time.

For as great as Ridley was — and Pickens is — he wasn’t the Alabama wide receiver who made the biggest play of the season. That was Smith. Georgia might not find itself a second-and-26 situation this coming season, but at some point, it will need one of its other wide receivers to help Pickens out.

And there’s the possibility that it will be one of those talented freshmen.

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