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011022 Indianapolis: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart arrives to play Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Georgia football recruiting: Why couldn’t UGA close a big-name WR in the 2022 cycle?

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s the Intel. This entry shares the perplexing story of how Georgia came close but was unable to sign one of the nation’s elite receiver prospects in the 2022 cycle.

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Luther Burden. Evan Stewart. Andre Greene Jr. Shazz Preston.

What do those names all have in common?

A good guess would be that those guys are all highly-explosive wide receivers. The ones that every school in the nation wanted for their 2022 signing class.

Let’s bury the suspense quickly:

  • Those young men held an average ranking of 5.5 for their position and No. 33 overall nationally (247Sports Composite) for the 2022 recruiting cycle.
  • They signed with Missouri (Burden), Texas A&M (Stewart), Alabama (Preston) and North Carolina (Greene) in 2022.
  • Georgia was in the race for all of those young men. With an average finish of 2.75 among those four prized wideouts.
  • The Bulldogs have signed three receivers so far in this class. With at least one more to go on National Signing Day on Wednesday. The averaging ranking (247Sports Composite) for that quartet stands at No. 61 for their position and at No. 420 overall nationally in this class.
  • The receivers that UGA signed in 2022 will prove to be more than capable, but there was something different about each of those four All-Americans. They were hyped up among the nation’s best and often over-delivered on that status. Even in an All-American setting.
  • These are the types of guys that could make a passing game explosive even if they played at an Army or Navy.

So close. But not enough. What was the difference in the recruitment for each of those guys?

It is a worthy topic given Georgia just brought back former WR and WRs coach Bryan McClendon to coach and recruit that position for the national champions. BMac’s charge will be to sign more of those guys.

The Bulldogs did not sign a top 100 overall national prospect at receiver in the 2021 or 2022 classes. That was after signing five such players in the 2019 and 2020 classes.

George Pickens was the first 5-star WR the Bulldogs signed since Marlon Brown in 2009. That was a 10-year gap from the day Pickens signed in 2019.

McClendon was the recruiting coordinator at Georgia for Mark Richt in 2014 and 2015. He helped sign big names like Isaiah Crowell, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Todd Gurley when he coached the running backs.

It would have been relevant in spite of today’s news. The wide receiver position is the one spot on the field where the Bulldogs have not signed a top 125 overall recruit in this class.

On defense, there is a 5-star safety, a trio of top 100 overall prospects at cornerback, a top 50 overall prospect at linebacker, 5-stars for the defensive line and out on the edge. The offensive side of the ball has a top 50 overall prospect for the offensive line, a pair of top 100 overall recruits at running back and tight end and a top 125 overall prospect at QB.

What happened at WR? Let’s start with Burden. He finished the cycle rated as the nation’s No. 1 WR prospect.

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Luther Burden: Why not Georgia?

Burden gave Georgia very serious consideration. There was even a likelihood he might choose UGA at one point. But in the end, he stayed in-state to play for Eli Drinkwitz at Mizzou.

Did Burden feel that Georgia missed the mark with its pitch?

“They definitely didn’t miss anything, but it made more sense for me to stay at home,” he said during the Under Armour All-American Game Week. “I came to the conclusion I wanted to build my own story. I didn’t want to be the next “so and so” or “somebody else” anywhere else. I wanted to build something in my home state.”

Was it a matter of production? What if Jermaine Burton or Pickens put together a 1,000-yard season this year?

Terrence Edwards remains the only member of the 1,000-yard receiving club at UGA. This year marks the 20th anniversary of that lone 1,000-yard season. What if one of those guys had double-digit touchdowns?

“Yeah, that’s another thing,” Burden said. “That’s a great point about the production of the receivers at Georgia. They throw the ball to the receivers a little bit, but they also throw it a lot to the tight end. Or run the ball first.”

With all due respect to the great Brock Bowers, Burden was surprised to see him lead Georgia in receiving by almost 400 yards. Bowers had 882 receiving yards in 2021.

“There’s no way a tight end should lead Georgia at receiving,” Burden said. “That’s what I feel like.”

He really thinking hard about UGA in October prior to his decision.

“Yeah, I was,” Burton said. “I swear I was. It was real close. It was real close.”

He went back-and-forth on Georgia and Missouri in the days leading up to his commitment.

“I was feeling you know Georgia this day and Mizzou this day,” he said. “Georgia. Mizzou. Then Georgia. I was feeling it for both schools.”

He committed to Mizzou on Oct. 19 and was at peace with it. There was no back and forth. He was done with the stresses of the recruiting process at that point.

“I got so tight with them because coach [Cortez] Hankton is a real dude,” Burden said. “For real. He was really looking out for me and made me feel good when I was up there. That’s why I really considered them.”

Burden said he let both Hankton and Kirby Smart know his choice prior to his commitment.

“It was only right for me to let them know,” he said.

For the record, the Bulldogs finished second for Burden. He looked very much at times like the best, second-best or third-best player at the Under Armour All-American Game week.

A couple of the Georgia signees felt like he was the best player at the entire event, too.

Have you subscribed to the DawgNation YouTube channel yet? If so, you will be able to see special 1-on-1 content with UGA names like Jake Fromm, Gunner Stockon and Brock Vandagriff here.

Luther Burden shared this image on his Twitter account from his photoshoot at UGA over the weekend at his official visit. (Twitter)
Twitter, Dawgnation

Evan Stewart: A very strong opinion about Georgia football

Stewart, the nation’s No. 2 WR, signed with Texas A&M. He finished up ranked as the nation’s No. 11 overall prospect. He is a blistering speedster (10.58 in the 100) and great overall athlete (24′6.5″ long jump) in track.

There was a point in time during the 2021 season in which he must have taken a look at Georgia’s stats. Or someone shared them with him.

He knew all about that discrepancy between Georgia’s receivers and tight ends.

“Well, one turnoff for me was is that all the rest of their receivers had like 190 yards and their tight end had 700 or 800 yards receiving,” Stewart said during Under Armour All-American Week. “So I was like ‘Nah that is not for me’ but I knew it was really a different year. I knew they were a running back university so as soon as I saw the tight end getting a lot of play I knew it was probably a running back-tight end thing there at Georgia. I just didn’t feel that their offense was for me. Really.”

Texas A&M had a 1,000-yard rusher last fall. The Aggies were led in receiving by a tight end with 515 yards. Ainias Smith was the only A&M wideout to finish with more than 260 yards receiving. He had 509 yards in receptions in 2021.

But he must have seen glimpses.

Smith led the Aggies with his six touchdown catches. He was also convinced that Texas A&M has a wide receiver-friendly offense. That’s in spite of the fact tight ends have led the team in receiving in two of the four seasons under Jimbo Fisher up to this point.

Fisher has only had three 1,000-yard receivers in his coaching career at FSU, including two of those in the 2013 BCS championship season.

Stewart said the Bulldogs need to have a talent like Burton or Pickens go off for one of those big 1,000-yard seasons. That will catch the eyes of more 5-star receivers.

“Then they would finally beat ‘Bama,” he said prior to Georgia’s 33-18 win. “That’s what they need to beat ‘Bama. They need to throw the ball. They don’t do it enough. So they lose at the last minute. All the time.”

He had Georgia among his top four. His final group was comprised of UGA, Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M.

While his Georgia-Alabama thoughts did not ring true, it is his perception that catches the most attention here.

“Wide receivers want to see production,” Stewart said. “You are not going to go nowhere that they do not produce. It is really not even a must production-wise. If you can just see what you can do in the offense, then it helps. But when you watch the offense and you know that you are not going to fit in it, you just don’t get excited and look elsewhere.”

Did Georgia check every box except for production?

“Basically,” he said. “Basically yes. There was a select route tree for Pickens. There was a select route tree for Burton. I could tell it wasn’t really a receiver-friendly type of thing.”

Why did A&M feel receiver-friendly to him?

“People don’t realize that about Jimbo just because it doesn’t have to be this generation,” Stewart said. “The plays haven’t changed. Ever since he started coaching, it was the same playbook that had the other four 1,000-yard receivers at FSU and LSU and all that type of stuff. I don’t know why people think that Texas A&M is strictly a run-first offense. It is a where your strength is type-of-thing.”

“Think about it. The run game was Texas A&M’s strength this year. We were weak in the receiver core for a couple of games.”

Cortez Hankton is the Georgia wide receivers coach.
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Shazz Preston thinks the time for Georgia will come

Shazz Preston finished as the nation’s No. 8 WR for 2022. He was the No. 55 overall player in the country.

He signed with Alabama, but not without a great measure of respect for the work Hankton did. It traced back to the time he recruited his brother, Shawn, in the class of 2018. That’s when he was still at Vanderbilt.

Preston wound up signing with Mississippi State in 2018.

“My recruiter was coach Hankton,” Preston said during Under Armour All-American Week. “Coach Hankton and I already had a good background. He recruited my brother throughout all of high school. When he came to me, he did that same thing. With him and Georgia for me, it was just timing. Alabama was just the best fit for me.”

“I’m sure other big recruits in the future will probably choose Georgia to play receiver. They just need to go hard after them like they do now.”

Did he need to see that type of elite production at Georgia?

“Nah, not really,” Preston said. “I don’t know what everyone else is seeing but I’m seeing Georgia throw the ball now, too. Everyone is producing big numbers at wide receiver, but Georgia is producing numbers, too. They are doing a hell of a job with receivers at Georgia. I talked to their offensive coordinator [Todd] Monken and he was a straight-up dude.”

“Pretty simple scheme. Great game plans. He feeds the receivers. They just have got to find the right recruit at the right time for them and then feed that guy.”

Preston said Georgia finished second behind Alabama.

“It is going to happen for Georgia over time,” Preston said. “They’ve got the people over there and the right plan to go about it knowing how to recruit. It might be a guy who was really slept on, who was missed by everyone else and he’s going to shock the world with the big numbers he puts up at Georgia. In the meantime, they are going to be alright.”

Why were the Bulldogs his runner-up school ahead of LSU and Texas in his final four?

“Georgia was pretty dope,” he said. “Georgia had a cool system even during recruiting and outside of recruiting. I was kicking it with Coach Kirby [Smart] and coach Hankton for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Me and my Dad both did. It was tempting. They were just good people. Coach Kirby loved baseball. I was able to see that. They were good people. They treated me and my Dad great just like regular folks while we were there.”

Andre Greene Jr: How close were the ‘Dawgs?

Andre Greene Jr. wound up as the nation’s No. 11 WR and the No. 73 overall recruit for this cycle.

“It is not like Georgia had a lack of showing me anything,” Greene Jr. said during Under Armour All-American Game Week. “North Carolina was just a better fit for me distance-wise, relationship-wise and academically speaking also. Just all of those things stood out to me. It was really the distance for me with my family being able to easily come to see all of my games.”

He said Georgia was his third-place school behind the Tar Heels and Clemson.

“Coach Hankton and Coach Monken did a great job of recruiting me,” he said. “I was really close with them at one point. But just those two schools were all better all-around fits for me distance-wise, academically and with football.”

Would big-time production have changed his outlook?

“Not really for me,” Greene Jr. said. “I feel like Georgia is more known for their running backs. But Georgia has got some dudes there. Definitely Jermaine Burton. George Pickens. I don’t think Georgia has a lack of skill at the receiver position.”

The irony in Greene’s point is that both of those guys will not be back for UGA next season. Burton is now at Alabama. Pickens declared for the NFL Draft.

“I just don’t think that Georgia was a bad fit for me or not a good fit for me,” Greene Jr. said. “I just think that UNC and Clemson were just a better fit.”

He picked Georgia to win the national championship.

“I would like Georgia to win it all,” he said. “I like Georgia the most out of those four final teams. But you can’t ever bet against ‘Bama.”

The recap of those four young men and the recruiting story for each shows what they were all thinking in regard to playing for Georgia.

DawgNation will be very enthused with the likes of Dillon Bell, De’Nylon Morrissette, Chandler Smith and Cole Speer in this cycle.

But the rewind here shows what the nation’s most sought-after WRs really felt about that position in Athens.

4-star WR Andre Greene Jr. said that Georgia finished third for him behind North Carolina and Clemson. (Andre Greene Jr./Instagram)
Courtesy photo, Dawgnation

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