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(Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Georgia's Jeremiah 'J.J.' Holloman might have something to say about the notion that the Bulldogs lost all their receiving talent off last year's team.

A huge group of receivers will battle for reps left behind by Mecole Hardman, Riley Ridley

Chip Towers

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part VI: The Wide Receivers

This is Part 6 in a 15-part series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — Attrition always has been and always will be a part of college football. After all, it’s a cyclical sport in which freshmen come in and seniors and pro prospects go out with the end of each passing season.

That said, Georgia’s wide receiver position encountered more than its share of attrition following the 2018 campaign. Not only did the Bulldogs lose experienced seniors to graduation, but they also lost their most productive juniors to the NFL draft.

Time will tell if the early exits of Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley were justified, but the fact is that they represented an additional 1,038 yards and 15 touchdowns of lost production from last year’s wide receiver corps. That talent bleed is even more pronounced when one adds tight end Isaac Nauta to the equation. That means Jake Fromm’s first, second and third most targeted receivers are gone, and that doesn’t include senior Terry Godwin, who missed significant playing time early in the season due to injuries.

And so, the Bulldogs effectively are starting over in 2019. That fact is considered a chink in the armor of Kirby Smart’s fourth Georgia team, which nevertheless is roundly considered one of the favorites to contend for the College Football Playoff. If the Bulldogs do make another run at it, it means some unknown commodities will have come through.

Tyler Simmons-Georgia-Georgia Bulldogs-Georgia football-UGA football-Auburn-Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-stats-score
Don’t go to sleep on Tyler Simmons, who averaged better than 19 yards a touch last season and scored four touchdowns on 14 touches. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

As for the known commodities, there are a few. Junior Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman is the most experienced of the returnees. He had 24 catches for 418 yards and 5 touchdowns while playing in all 14 games a year ago. And rising senior Tyler Simmons had more starts (6) than any of the returning wideouts. With 14 career catches and two touchdowns, he’ll surely be out to prove he’s more than just an excellent downfield blocker.

But more than any of them, Georgia fans will be watching with keen interest to see what Demetris Robertson can do as a junior. The former 5-star prospect and California transfer was unable to record a catch in his only season with the Bulldogs last year. But everybody knows he’s capable of so much more. Fifty-seven catches for 837 yards and 7 touchdowns in a season-plus-two-games in the Pac-12 indicate that.

Meanwhile, numerous unknowns are waiting in the wings. Redshirts such as sophomore Matt Landers and freshmen Tommy Bush and Kearis Jackson are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to show what they have. And the Bulldogs will bring in four new players via recruiting: 5-star signees Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens, 4-star Makiya Tongue and graduate transfer Lawrence Cager of Miami. Oddly enough, only Cager is expected to be around for spring ball.

The irony of all this uncertainty of the receiver position is the expectation that the Bulldogs — in a third season behind quarterback Jake Fromm and its first with James Coley as the sole offensive coordinator and play-caller — are going to throw the ball around more this year than they have yet under Kirby Smart. But there are at least a dozen candidates to catch those balls.

That should make for a spirited competition not only in spring practice, but all through the summer and into the fall. Whoever is able to build a rapport with and the trust of Fromm will surely benefit by having a big year in 2019. The passes are going to be there for the taking.

Let’s take a closer look at the wideouts:

WIDE RECEIVERS

  • Returning starters: None.
  • Others returning: Tyler Simmons, 6-foot, 201 pounds, senior; Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman, 6-2, 200, junior; Demetris Robertson, 6-0, 190, RJr.; Trey Blount, 6-2, 200, RJr.; Matt Landers, 6-5, 200, R.Soph.; Tommy Bush, 6-5, 200, RFr.; Kearis Jackson, 6-0, 200, RFr.
  • Early enrollees: Lawrence Cager, 6-5, 200, graduate transfer (Miami)
  • On the way: Dominick Blaylock, 6-1, 195, freshman; George Pickens, 6-4, 190, freshman; Makiya Tongue, 6-2, 210, freshman
  • Analysis: In Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, Isaac Nauta and Terry Godwin, Georgia lost four of its top six players in receptions from the 2018 team. J.J. Holloman, however, developed into one of Jake Fromm’s most reliable targets the second half of the season. He caught 16 passes from the LSU game on and proved especially dependable on third down. He and Tyler Simmons represent the only returnees with starting experience, with 10 between them. However, one has to have started at least half the games to qualify as a returning starter, so neither does. … As for replacing the “dynamism” of Hardman and Ridley, Georgia feels like it has some strong candidates in Demetris Robertson and Kearis Jackson. Robertson may not have been able to produce as a receiver his first season with the Bulldogs, but he remains one of the fastest players on the team and in the league. Look for Georgia to try to establish his presence in the game plan early. The coaching staff bit the bullet in redshirting Jackson because his reps were going to be so few behind Hardman and the other established slot receivers. But look for him to be in the mix early and often in the spring. Matt Landers was creating a buzz in practice late in the season and gives Fromm three 6-foot-5 targets to look to in tight situations. Don’t go to sleep on senior Tyler Simmons. To date, he gets on the field primarily because of his exceptional blocking ability. But he also happens to be one of the team’s fastest players and, between catches and jet-sweep runs, Simmons averaged 19.2 yards on 14 touches with 4 touchdowns in 2018. Based on those stats, he may need to touch the ball a little more.
  • Bottom line:  Smart and his staff have attacked the receiver the position the way they do all of them — with sheer numbers. Including a good group of walkons, the Bulldogs will trot out in the neighborhood of 18 wideouts for coach Cortez Hankton to evaluate before the season opener. Most of that group will be on hand for spring practice. Unfortunately, Georgia won’t be able to get a look at their coveted 5-star signees in the spring as neither Dominick Blaylock nor George Pickens came in as early enrollees. So they won’t get to work with Fromm until their arrival in early July. That represents a considerable head start for the rest of the receiver corps. Generally, the Bulldogs carry about eight or nine receivers on the travel roster and rotate six on offense in games. The six that ultimately earn the right for those offensive reps in the fall should be exceptional indeed.

UP NEXT: The pressure is on the running backs behind D’Andre Swift to carry on Georgia’s RBU tradition.

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW