Opinion: UGA can still have elite offense without a 5-star WR
Georgia fans are still coming to grips with wide receiver George Pickens’ ACL injury, and many are left to wonder how UGA will fill his shoes this season.
Of course, there’s also hope for a potential comeback for Pickens. Yet even if that eventually occurs, other players will need to step up while he’s sidelined.
With that in mind, I took a look this week on DawgNation Daily at the makeup of the wide receiver groups that had recently been part of the sport’s most explosive offenses and how realistic it is that UGA could match the productivity of those units this season.
Specifically, what I set out to determine was how many of those offenses leaned on a five-star wide receiver for their success.
Pickens — who was a five-star in the 2019 class — stands out as a rare distinction among other UGA receivers in that category. Before Pickens, the Bulldogs’ last five-star receiver signed out of high school came in 2009.
Pickens has undoubtedly validated his rating in his two seasons with UGA. His 727 receiving yards in 2019 are the most for any Bulldogs receiver in the last five years. He’s also the only UGA receiver over that span to have two seasons with six or more touchdowns.
However, his absence — no matter how long it lasts –doesn’t have to be catastrophic for the Bulldogs.
Using stats from 2019 — the sport’s most recent full season — as a comparison, the five most prolific Power Five offenses belonged to LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. All of which averaged 42 or more points per game that season.
Yet only one of those teams, Clemson, had a former five-star recruit as its leading receiver. Tee Higgins — a five-star signee in the 2017 class — led the Tigers with 1167 yards in 2019.
Alabama’s second leading receiver that season was a former five-star and so was LSU’s No. 3 target. But neither Ohio State nor Oklahoma had a former five-star receiver among their top three pass catchers in 2019.
While former five-star wide receivers weren’t a commonality for these offenses, what they all did have were top quarterback and coordinator pairings.
LSU was led in 2019 by Joe Burrow at quarterback, the eventual No. 1 overall draft pick, and Joe Brady as his coordinator, whose success that season earned him a promotion to an NFL gig as play caller for the Carolina Panthers. Alabama’s quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, also became a first-round pick, and his coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, parlayed his game-planning success into a bigger job as well. Sarkisian’s now head coach at Texas.
Furthermore, Clemson and Ohio State were led in 2019 by quarterbacks that are expected to be first-round picks in this year’s NFL draft functioning in offensive systems that have been racking up yards and points for years.
Oklahoma is the only team from this group without a first-round talent at quarterback, but Jalen Hurts, selected by Philadelphia in the second round in the 2020 draft, is the Eagles’ possible starter this fall.
The point is that, while it’s good to have a former five-star wide receiver to help power an offense, a top-flight quarterback and quality offensive coordinator are essential.
Most fans would agree that UGA appears to be in good hands in that regard with the combo of JT Daniels at quarterback and coordinator Todd Monken directing the playcalling.
That duo should be able to help create some new stars among the Bulldogs’ crop of receivers. And who knows, before the season’s done, maybe they’ll have a healthy and recovered Pickens back in the fold as well.
Also on DawgNation Daily last week: