It is still not known if Pickens will be able to play at all for Georgia this fall. The Bulldogs will need a new top wide receiver to emerge in that absence.
Kearis Jackson led Georgia in receiving yards a season ago. Darnell Washington is literally the biggest target on the team. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint was the top-rated wide receiver signee in Georgia’s 2020 class. Arian Smith is the fastest player on the team.
But above all of those names, Jermaine Burton stands out as the most obvious candidate to replace Pickens as Georgia’s top receiving option.
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Burton finished his freshman season with 404 yards on 27 catches and three touchdowns. Not exactly Justyn Ross numbers, but better than the average freshman that entered college as a top-100 overall prospect.
The sophomore scored his first touchdown in the loss against Alabama, scoring on a third-down just before halftime to give Georgia the lead over the Crimson Tide. He’s shown he’s able to make plays against some of the top teams in the country.
Perhaps the real reason though for why Burton is best suited to be Georgia’s new top receiver can be traced back to JT Daniels’ first start.
Against Mississippi State, Burton came down with a season-high eight receptions. The chemistry with Daniels early on was apparent.
“If you have George Pickens and Jermaine Burton, if you’re not going to throw it up to them, don’t recruit them,” Daniels said after the win. “George made me look good, Jermaine made me look good.”
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Burton led all Georgia receivers that day with 197 receiving yards, just eight short of the school record. He added two touchdowns as well. It was the kind of performance you would expect from one of the top wide receivers in the 2020 class, as he was the No. 82 overall prospect.
Now the pessimist would point out that 49 percent of Burton’s receiving yards came in just one game. In the final three games of Georgia’s season — which Daniels also started — Burton had only nine catches for 77 yards.
Over that same span, Pickens and Daniels took off, with Pickens piling up 15 catches for 286 yards. Most importantly, he scored three touchdowns in those games. The two pretty clearly had a strong bond as Daniels felt more than comfortable just heaving it up to Pickens.
Burton didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do this spring after Pickens sustained his knee injury. Just a week later, Burton hyperextended his own knee, sending the Georgia fanbase into a tailspin.
“Jermaine Burton is fine,” Smart said in April. “He has no structural damage. He was out there today doing exercises, doing conditioning, doing different things. Jermaine Burton is going to be fine.”
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He didn’t play in Georgia’s spring game, but Burton was able to dress out for the spring game, another positive sign for the future of the passing game.
With Burton returning to full health, he’ll need a big offseason to continue to make progress within the Georgia offense. With a more normal offseason, as opposed to the Athens he showed up to last June, Burton should have the opportunity to take the necessary steps forward.