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Jermaine Burton attempting to be UGA’s 2020 version of George Pickens

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George Pickens on Jermaine Burton: ‘He reminds me of myself’

As bad as the Georgia offense was a season ago, imagine what it would’ve looked like without freshman sensation George Pickens. The 5-star prospect from Hoover, Ala., lived up to the hype as he led the Bulldogs in receptions, touchdown catches and receiving yards.

Georgia very much needed his contributions, in part because of the dearth of talent at the wide receiver position.

And while Pickens returns this in 2020 for Georgia football, there are still major concerns at the wide receiver position. The player many thought would be Georgia’s Scottie Pippen to Pickens’ Michael Jordan was Dominick Blaylock. He tore his ACL in August and is now out for the season.

So Georgia will once again look for freshman contributions to help bolster the team’s passing game. It brought in five wide receivers in the 2020 signing class. Three of them were ranked among the top-100 overall prospects in the class.

And one stands out as the Bulldogs start their season against Arkansas this week. That would be Jermaine Burton.

“He’s explosive. He loves the game of football. He’s got really good hands,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s a really consistent ball catcher. He can go up, he can explode up. He’s learning our system so he’s not there yet but he’s a good player.”

One of Georgia’s greatest receivers in program history has long known about Burton’s exploits and talent. That’s because Terrence Edwards, the program’s only player to top 1,000-yards in a single season, has been training Burton since the seventh grade.

Like Smart, Edwards praises a lot of the same attributes that Smart called out.

“He’s very explosive, probably the most explosive receiver on the team,” Edwards said. “His hand-eye coordination is off the charts. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to make those tough catches in those tough moments.”

Burton’s path to Georgia wasn’t like a go-route or a curl. It was more of a wheel route, with many twists and turns before finally resulting in a completion. His freshman year of high school he played at Hapeville Charter in Atlanta. Then as a sophomore, he transferred to Florida power IMG Academy. On a team loaded with future college standouts — like Georgia’s Nolan Smith — Burton managed to carve out a starting role.

For his junior season, he hoped to return closer to home and play at Marietta High School in Marietta, Ga.. But after he was denied a chance to play by the Georgia High School Association, Burton ended up at Calabasas High School in Calabasas, Calif. That’s where he spent his final two seasons of high school football.

During that time, he initially committed to LSU in April of 2019, before the Tigers went on to completely re-write the SEC’s offensive record books. But on the first day of the early signing period, Georgia secured a huge win in flipping Burton from the Tigers.

Related: Jermaine Burton: Why coming home means so much to Georgia’s next great receiver

For much of the 2020 recruiting cycle, Burton would’ve been Georgia’s highest-rated wide receiver signee, much like Pickens was in the 2019 class. But from Nov. 30 to when the final 247Sports Composite rankings came out on Jan. 31, Burton dropped from the No. 40 ranked player to the No. 82 ranked player. That dropped him behind fellow Georgia signees Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Arian Smith.

Burton though has very quickly reminded so many why he was a fringe 5-star prospect for much of the cycle. He made one of the most impressive plays in Georgia’s final scrimmage, one of the few passing highlights from the afternoon.

Related: Georgia football Scrimmage 3 observers’ report: Jermaine Burton arrives

The freshman wide receiver has also impressed Pickens early on, in part because Burton reminds Pickens of himself.

“Coming in from Alabama as a freshman, the expectations people had for me I was just working hard every day,” Pickens said. “I knew that was the standard at the school I chose. I feel like Jermaine Burton, he knows that standard as the same. ”

Related: Georgia football receiver George Pickens shares secret to Sugar Bowl success

Pickens and Burton though aren’t the same type of player. Pickens is the bigger of the two, as he stands at 6-foot-3 compared to Burton’s 6-foot stature. Pickens plays the position how Spider-Man would: incredible hands and the ability to seemingly levitate in the air. He’s also quite the blocker thanks to his physical nature.

Butron has displayed similar impressive leaping skills with Smart recalling some of his box jump workouts from Burton’s time as a high schooler. Factor in his impressive speed — tight end John FitzPatrick used the word “lighting fast” when talking about the freshman wide receiver — and it’s easy to see why Burton possesses the attributes to impress early.

It’s one thing though to impress early on in practice and another for it to translate to the field. Pickens last season had just three catches in his first three games against Power 5 competition. It wasn’t until his fourth game against a Power 5 team that he really made an impact, as he caught seven passes for 98 yards.

Burton’s fourth game will be an Oct. 17 trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

“They’ve got to be ready to play really fast and they’ve got less time to do it because they didn’t get a spring ball,” Smart said. “They didn’t get some of the summer so we’re having to make decisions really quick when it comes to getting our depth set and our roster set for the games we have.”

Related: Georgia football freshman wide receivers have hit ‘the wall’ and that’s perfectly normal

Edwards does expect Burton to hit the freshman wall, a term used to describe when young players seem somewhat overwhelmed by the rigorous demands of college football. Pickens sees Burton making some of the same mistakes he made just a season ago.

Pickens’ freshman season saw him catch 47 passes for 724 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was one of just four top-100 wide receiver prospects to record more than 700 yards as a freshman since 2016. Expecting Burton to do as Pickens did might be a big ask.

But given he has a player like Pickens to work alongside, Burton won’t need to produce those same numbers. Georgia just needs him to be the best Jermaine Burton he can be, preferably as soon as possible given the issues Georgia still has at the wide receiver position.

And if he can live up to the hype as Pickens did last year, we won’t be asking questions about the Georgia wide receiver room for much longer.

“He’s just a flat baller. And I’m not saying that just because I trained him since the seventh grade,” Edwards said. “He has it. Like I told you George had it last year, Jermaine has it as well.”

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