The first thing you notice as the ball is in the air is the kid is completely covered. It’s an out route, and the defense is tight. To the kid, it doesn’t matter. He simply leaps into the air, contorts his body on the way up, and makes a one-handed grab with his arm over the top of the defender.

It was just a play in an August scrimmage, one of many across the country. It was backups vs. backups, and in the big picture of college football, it didn’t mean a thing.

Or it meant everything!

The kid in question is Georgia freshman wide receiver George Pickens. Yes, he does have a name. And because this is how social media works in 2019, his amazing catch in Georgia’s first scrimmage two Saturdays ago went viral, and hundreds of thousands of people saw it and went wow! Just like that, he made a name for himself.

George Pickens.

But here’s the catch, no pun intended. If you didn’t already know his name, then you just haven’t been paying attention closely enough.

  • His coaches and former teammates at Hoover (Ala.) High School have seen him catch balls like that before. All the time. What’s the fuss, they’re saying. They knew.
  • Chris Humes, Pickens’ older brother by 7 years who gets paid to play professional football, wonders what the fuss is, too. He’s been seeing it from little brother since the kid was 12 years old. He knew.
  • His new Georgia teammates see something amazing with him just about every day. They say they’re “very excited” to have him as a teammate and already compare him to some of the greatest receivers in the game. He’s that good. They know now.
  • And you know who really knew how great Pickens could be? The Auburn coaches. They had recruited Pickens and had a verbal commitment from him for more than a year and a half. But when Pickens flipped to Georgia on National Signing Day with no warning, word is that a few of the Auburn coaches had a major meltdown in losing the kid. They knew, too.

Pickens picked Georgia at the last minute because he knew he could go there and potentially start from Day 1, and maybe win an SEC title and national championship right away. He knew he could go there and make a name for himself.

Mission accomplished — in the first week of practice.

Now that everyone has seen the video, many people are convinced that Pickens will be the next great SEC wide receiver and will threaten 1,000 yards as a freshman. He’s already eliciting comparisons to A.J. Green and Julio Jones, who’s numbers he passed as a senior last year at Hoover when he had 1,368 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. The 1,368 total was the 14th-most in Alabama high school history. Jones is on that list too, at 20th.

Pickens is 6-3 and 190 pounds, and he was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Alabama last year. That he wound up at Georgia is something special. And the guys who have to try to cover him in practice already know how special he’s going to be, and already is.

“George is just a one-of-a-kind player,” said Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, who goes up against Pickens most every day. “He’s a really good talent at the top of his route releases. I’m falling in love with George day by day.”

“He’s got really big, strong hands, and he reminds you of an A.J. Green with his skill-set to adjust to the ball in the air,” Georgia safety Richard LeCounte told reporters. “He’s a great guy, got a lot to learn, but also you see flashes of a young guy that I’m very excited to see at Georgia.”

Green is the benchmark for great freshman receivers at Georgia. His 56 catches for 963 yards in 2008 are still a school record. He’s a Bulldogs legend who had this same type of body as Pickens, long and graceful, with a huge vertical leap and tremendous hands. The comparisons, at least in body type for now, are legitimate.

So is the opportunity. Georgia’s top 5 players in receiving yards from a year ago are gone. The chance at immediate playing time is real, and that was one of the biggest reasons Pickens spurned Auburn for Georgia. Among other things.

“He saw an opportunity when he saw two guys declare early for the draft in Mecole (Hardman) and Riley (Ridley) and Terry Godwin leave and then (tight end) Isaac Nauta, and there was a lot of touches there available,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said last week.

“And I know he wanted to have an opportunity to play with a quarterback like Jake Fromm. We’re excited to have him.”

 

Playing with Fromm, who’s a 3-year starter this season, is certainly a bonus. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in college football, but he’s also a great leader. He will help make Pickens better right from the get-go.

That matters to Fromm, too. Georgia is a national championship contender again, because of Fromm, the nation’s best collection of running backs and an offensive line that might be the best in the SEC. The concern coming into the fall was that a lack of receiving threats could derail this offense. It was the only hole on a powerful offensive machine.

Pickens has already put a lot of that talk to rest. Now, all of a sudden, the talk is that this group could be very good. Senior Tyler Simmons is back and transfer Demetris Robertson seems ready for a breakout year. He was a freshman sensation, making 50 catches at California in 2016. Miami transfer Lawrence Cager is also in the mix, and there are other younger guys fighting for playing time, too.

For now, though, it’s Pickens who is turning heads. And that doesn’t surprise his big brother one bit. Humes, who plays professionally in the Canadian Football League, has seen in coming for a long time.

“It is very rare,” Humes told DawgNation. “A lot of guys compare him to a Julio (Jones) because of his size and how physical he can be. Almost like a Keenan Allen with his juke moves and how flexible he is. He gets you going or leaning one way and then goes another. But then he is also almost like an A.J. Green with his game and the way he goes up and gets it in the air and how he tracks the ball.

“There’s not a lot of guys like that. He’s extremely rare and this guy hasn’t even gone through a college strength and conditioning program yet. Just wait for that. When he puts on the weight he needs to get acclimated, it is going to be really special when he adds all of that to his game.”

Recent Power 5 1K-yard freshman receivers

Can George Pickens join this list?

Year
Receiver
School
Yards
TDs
2018
Rondale Moore
Purdue
1,258
12
2018
Justyn Ross
Clemson
1,000
9
2015
Calvin Ridley
Alabama
1,045
7
2015
Christian Kirk
Texas A&M
1,009
7
2014
Mike Dudek
Illinois
1,038
6
2014
KD Cannon
Baylor
1,030
8