George Pickens, Georgia needs you. Now
George Pickens gave everyone a good laugh, including Kearis Jackson.
Lined up against All-Big Ten defensive back Daxton Hill opposite of him in press coverage, Pickens peaked over to the Michigan players on the sideline and shushed them before the snap. In the next 4 seconds, Pickens proceeded to pancake Hill and shush the Michigan sideline once more.
In case you haven’t seen the viral block, here it is in its entirety:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 4, 2022
Jackson didn’t see the block live, but he caught it when it went viral after Georgia’s blowout win in the Orange Bowl. As someone who has been in the receiver room with Pickens for the past 3 seasons, seeing the former 5-star wideout leave his mark didn’t surprise Jackson.
“George just loves to do things that go viral, I guess,” Jackson said on Wednesday with a smile.
It was as good of a moment as Pickens has had since he returned from his ACL rehab in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. Put that one right next to the 37-yard catch he hauled in against Alabama during the SEC Championship.
But if Pickens’ viral moments are limited to 1 play in the rematch against Alabama, the Dawgs will again come up short of ending the 1980 jokes.
Georgia needs the full Pickens arsenal, specifically the one that allowed him to pass the century mark in his first 2 bowl games. So far, UGA’s most talented receiver has been limited with his usage. Here’s his snap count in his 3 games since returning from his knee injury (via PFF):
- vs. Georgia Tech — 7 (3 passing, 4 rushing)
- vs. Alabama — 20 (12 passing, 8 rushing)
- vs. Michigan — 18 (9 passing, 9 rushing)
In those 3 games, Pickens was on the field for 24 passing plays, and he caught passes on 4 of them (for 55 yards). His lone catch against Michigan was a quick slant that went for 9 yards. Pickens was open over the middle on Brock Bowers’ highlight reel catch, as well. Still, his 37-yard Alabama catch was the lone grab that went for 10 yards.
That was the only time we really saw Pickens go up and make a play like his pre-knee injury self:
George Pickens is back making plays. pic.twitter.com/yRWX1Cgc3L
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 4, 2021
Georgia needs more of that in the worst way.
Yeah, that wasn’t the case against Michigan. The Dawgs were also the more talented, better prepared team and Pickens’ next-level abilities weren’t required to win that lopsided matchup. Against Alabama, we know, that’s a different story.
This can’t be a game in which Pickens is limited to 20 snaps. Surely nobody would’ve expected him to play fewer snaps in the semifinal than he did in the SEC Championship. Who knows how much game flow impacted that in the Michigan game. As great as it was to see big-time catches from non-Bowers pass-catchers like Jermaine Burton and Jackson, Pickens’ ability to get vertical and make game-changing plays is an integral part of avoiding déja vu.
There’s a stat that doesn’t get talked about enough as it relates to winning a national championship. The last time that a national champion didn’t have a future first-round receiver on its roster was 2014 Ohio State … which had Mike Thomas. Thomas should’ve been a first-rounder then and now. So if you include Thomas in that category of first-round receivers, the last national champion who didn’t have a first-round receiver on its roster was 2011 Alabama.
From 2012-20, here were all the instances in which the runner-up lacked a future first-round receiver:
- 2012 Notre Dame
- 2013 Auburn
- 2014 Oregon
- 2015 Clemson
- 2017 Georgia
- 2019 Clemson
(I didn’t include 2020 Ohio State because I’m gonna bet that between Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams and Jaxson Smith-Njigba, the Buckeyes will have at least 1 receiver from that team who eventually gets picked in the first round.)
Those 6 runner-ups scored an average of 25.5 points in the title game. That’s not a coincidence.
And in case you were wondering, this is limited to receiver because even though Bowers might eventually be a first-round pass-catcher, his skill-set as an elite tight end isn’t stretching the field vertically like Pickens. There are things Pickens can do that Bowers, Jackson, Ladd McConkey and Burton cannot. That’s why Pickens got first-round buzz in the way-too-early mock drafts.
Those opportunities to look the part could present themselves, especially in the event that Alabama sells out to make sure that Bowers doesn’t go off again. Nick Saban called the true freshman tight end “one of the premier players in college football.” You don’t say that about a guy unless you need to go to great lengths to contain him. That could be a combination of defenders, or it could be safety Jordan Battle shadowing Bowers.
Who’s the player who could benefit the most from not having to deal with a safety over the top? Pickens.
The scary thing is we’ve never seen a full version of Pickens paired with Bowers. In terms of what each of them bring to the table, both are 1 of 1 players during the Smart era. We’ve only gotten a small sample of what it looked like for them to be on the field at the same time, and it yielded plays like that aforementioned Bowers catch wherein Pickens was also open.
What’s undeniable is that Stetson Bennett needs help. He’s trying to become the first non-future top-15 overall pick at quarterback to win a national title since Jake Coker in 2015. Maybe he doesn’t need Pickens to go off for 200 yards and a few scores, but there needs to be at least a handful of times in which he helps out his scrutinized signal-caller. This isn’t a game in which Pickens can merely be a decoy.
Georgia needs the best version of Pickens. Not just the viral block version; the viral catch version.
It’s up to Pickens to provide more than a good laugh. If anything, he should set out to do the exact opposite of that.
End the 1980 jokes once and for all.