Georgia WR George Pickens’ talent worthy of A.J. Green comparison, first-round pick

ATHENS — George Pickens looks like an NFL first-round draft pick, plays like a first-round NFL draft pick and sounds like a first-round NFL draft pick.

But will Pickens, the most talented Georgia football receiver since A.J. Green, actually be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday night?

The 2022 NFL Draft, which runs Thursday-Saturday in Last Vegas, is loaded with elite wide receiver prospects.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Pickens made a good case he measures up among the best, running a 4.47-second time in the 40-yard dash and exploding wit a 125-inch broad jump and 33-inch vertical.

For reference, Green -- a shoo-in NFL Hall of Fame -- measured in at 6-1.5 and 202 pounds, ran a 4.48, had a 126-inch broad jump and had a 34.5 vertical at the 2011 NFL Combine.

Cleveland Browns safety and former Georgia All-American Richard LeCounte took note of Pickens from the time he arrived on the UGA campus as a 5-star recruit out of Hoover in 2019.

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“George is a great guy, he plays really fast, he has big, strong hands,” LeCounte said. “He reminds you a lot of A.J. Green with his skillset to adjust to the ball in the air.”

Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes was just as big of a fan of Pickens at UGA.

“George is a one-of-a-kind player, I’m not lying,” Stokes said, two weeks into Pickens’ first fall with the team. “You talk about this (pointing to a leg scrape), it happened today because of George. He’s one heckuva wide receiver that we’ve got, George is a real talent, and he’s on top of his releases and all of that,”

Pickens’ physicality and willingness as a perimeter blocker made him an instant favorite of Coach Kirby Smart, who harps on having toughness at a position better know for fitness.

Pickens’ highlight tape of catches impresses, too. He has shown an incredible catch radius and the ability to contort his body to make spectacular receptions or shield off defenders in coverage.

UGA cornerback Derion Kendrick, who transferred over from Clemson entering the 2021 season, puts Pickens on the same level as any of the receivers he has faced.

“I’d say it’s his intelligence at the position, he’s a very smart receiver, he knows what the DB is trying to do to him,” said Kendrick, the CFP Orange Bowl Defensive MVP.

“So, he knows how to release and influence you on his routes, and he may go get the ball a certain way on certain plays, things like that make him special.”

Pickens is such a dominant receiver that former LSU defensive coordinator and current Baylor coach Dave Aranda said he had special coverages in place specifically to stop Pickens.

“We had to make sure we pressed him,” Aranda said. “We had a double coverage that we saved until halftime for him. We had a cloud coverage, wherever he was at, that we saved until after halftime, as well.”

Current Carolina Panthers head coach and former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule should have taken notes: Pickens lit up Rhule’s Top 10 Baylor team like no other.

Pickens, working with future NFL quarterback Jake Fromm, had 11 catches for 165 yards and a TD by halftime of the Bulldogs’ 26-14 win over the No.-7-ranked Bears.

RELATED: George Pickens puts on a show, dominates with Jake Fromm in Sugar Bowl

Pickens finished with 12 catches for 175 yards, tying the school’s bowl record for catches in a game with his Offensive MVP performance as he finished the nation’s leading freshman receiver with 37 catches for 552 yards.

RELATED: George Pickens Game Ball, ties bowl record

Pickens heated up over the final four games of his sophomore season with JT Daniels under center, meshing with the SoCal gunslinger to the tune of 23 catches for 373 yards and 4 touchdowns — after having 13 catches for 140 yards in his previous four games.

The Daniels-Pickens duo was one of the most anticipated of the 2021 season, but early into UGA spring drills, Pickens suffered a torn ACL.

Many believed Pickens’ career at Georgia could be finished, but he vowed to return for the season, an ambitious timetable.

“As soon as I got hurt, I knew in my head, I was going to have a strict schedule and a routine that I was going to try to abide by and try to go back and get back as soon as I can,” Pickens said.

“I’m hard on myself, and when I figured that out, I figured out that if you know yourself, you can’t lie to yourself.”

Pickens came back to a more balanced UGA offense run under Stetson Bennett that relied on backs and tight ends more than perimeter receivers.

Pickens, who played the final four games, came up with the first — and much-needed — offensive momentum play for Georgia in the CFP Championship Game. Racing down the middle of the field open, Pickens leaped high and went horizontal in Super Man like fashion to reel in a 52-yard catch that set up the Bulldogs first score of the night.

RELATED: The Pickens’ Plan, LSU went all out to stop No. 1

Pickens’ speed, athleticism, hands and determination were all on display at the moment: A big-time player making a big-time play in a big-time game.

Smart was the least surprised person in the building, as he’d had a better read on Pickens than anyone before the Georgia receiver became a household name in the SEC.

“This kid loves ball, " Smart said. “He’s as natural of a catcher as I’ve ever seen.”

Pickens announced at the NFL Combine that he carries himself with a “first-round” mentality, making it clear that he’s not only ready for the next level, but he plans to continue to be dominant after playing and practicing against the best in college football while at Georgia.

“We have NFL-type practices, we have NFL-type players,” Pickens said. “Half of the players on my team are already here (14 at the combine). It’s almost like you’re in the league, already.”

Looks like a first-round pick, plays like a first-round pick, and sounds like a first-round pick, the NFL is on the clock to determine Pickens’ starting point.

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