Lawrence Cager might not be 100 percent for the NFL combine this week, but fans who have followed his career know better than to count him out.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Cager overcame a shoulder injury and bruised ribs to lead Georgia to a 24-17 win over Florida this season with 7 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown last season.
— Lawrence Cager (@lawrencecager3) October 28, 2019
“I was dead, I hadn’t practiced or played in like 2 1/2 weeks, so you got to rise from the dead sometime,” Cager said after his historic performance.
“I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything.”
Cager did, however, miss the final three games of the season after suffering an ankle injury in a Nov. 27 practice and undergoing ankle surgery on Nov. 29.
Cager’s absences staggered the Georgia football team.
Cager had three first down catches in the first half against South Carolina, but without him, the offense came apart and lost 20-17 overtime.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm completed more than 70 percent of his passes with Cager on the field.
But without him, the pass game struggled. Fromm completed less than 50 percent when the graduate transfer from Miami was sidelined.
“He was the one guy, and this isn’t from Jake, (but) he looked like the guy that Jake was really comfortable with,” former New England Patriots; and Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl scout Jim Nagy said.
“He was kind of the bailout guy. Jake knew where Lawrence was going to be, and they looked like they were on the same page,” said Nagy, who has studied film of UGA players in preparation an ESPN analyst role for the NFL combine.
“That wasn’t always the case (with other receivers). Especially the guys out on the perimeter. It looked like they weren’t on the same page quite a bit.”
Cager, despite his success for Georgia this season — he had 33 catches for 476 yards and 4 TDs in nine games — projects as a later-round pick heading into the combine.
“Where he gets drafted will be interesting,” Nagy said. “But big picture, where Cager is concerned at the next level, is going to be what he does on special teams.
“If you don’t project to be a top three receiver on an NFL team next year, and you’re a four or a five or a six, you’re going to have to play in the kicking game.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart harps on that all the time. The message seems to get lost on some.
Smart is actually doing his players a favor by teaching them to play special teams and utilizing them on the units.
Former Bulldogs’ receiver Jayson Stanley went undrafted last year and didn’t make a catch all season. But Stanley’s special teams ability landed him a spot on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad, and he’s now rostered with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cager, however, didn’t play special teams in his short time at Georgia. With the injuries he was battling — he hurt his shoulder before the halfway mark of the season — it was all he could do to play receiver.
Nagy said that Cager impressed when he was on the field at Georgia.
“You heard from the people in Miami he was inconsistent catching the football, but he sure didn’t look that way (at Georgia),” Nagy said. “I was at the Notre Dame game, he made plays in that game, so yeah, the injury thing is real, he’s going to have to work through that.
And, Nagy said, Cager is going to have to convince teams he is willing and able to play special teams.
“From a scout’s perspective, that would be my reservation, never really seeing Lawrence do that,” Nagy said. “Is he fast enough, is he aggressive enough, is he strong enough to be that guy to run down on kickoff or punt?
“I’m not saying he’s not, but when you are talking about Day Three (NFL draft rounds 4-6) receivers, that’s a huge part of the equation, not just what they do at receiver.”
Nagy said very few college receivers transition quickly into one of the top three receiver spots on an NFL team, so they need to show value on special teams to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
“Big picture, that’s what Lawrence is going to be facing, that’s what teams are battling with now,” Nagy said. “If we take him in the fifth or the sixth round, is he going to be active on game day for us?”
First things first, Cager needs to get himself active and healthy enough to work out for the NFL teams. If not at the combine, perhaps by the Georgia Pro Day, which is projected to be March 18.
Cager has been mum, but earlier this year, he put a short video of himself running on a treadmill.
Cager was one of 10 Georgia players invited to the NFL combine.
The quarterbacks and receivers work out on Thursday night (TV: NFL Network, 4 p.m.).
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