ATHENS, Ga. - When Georgia standout A.J. Green isn't laying out for acrobatic catches or tossing footballs to the turf following touchdowns, he's checking out his fellow Southeastern Conference receivers.
Green said South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, Alabama's Julio Jones and Arkansas's Greg Childs have been his favorites to track this season and that he occasionally talks to Jeffery on Facebook. It was Jeffery who former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin reportedly told that signing with the Gamecocks would result in him pumping gas for a living.
"He's not pumping gas," Green said, smiling. "Trust me."
After producing only one first-round receiver (Florida's Percy Harvin in 2009) in the past three NFL drafts, the SEC is on the verge of making amends. Green and Jones will be first-round selections in the 2011 draft should they elect to bypass their senior seasons, as will Jeffery in the 2012 draft should he play three years for the Gamecocks.
Until then, they will continue wreaking havoc against even the best SEC teams. Auburn, the lone league unbeaten this season, gave up 164 yards and two touchdowns to Green on Nov. 13 and must face Jones and Jeffery the next two weekends.
"I've never seen it this deep with so many long, athletic ones," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, who arguably has the league's top receiving tandem with Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. "You've seen some pretty fast, shifty guys, but now you've got what we and everybody else is turning to, which are the long, athletic guys who create mismatch problems for teams. We've faced Jeffery. We faced Julio Jones the last couple of years. We've faced A.J.
"This league is always going to have great athletes. We just have more of them at the receiver position this year."
The SEC indeed has become a big-boy league at receiver. Matthews is the tallest of the prominent producers at 6-foot-5, followed by Green, Jeffery and Jones at 6-4 and Childs at 6-3.
Cobb and Arkansas's Joe Adams lead the little guys, each at 5-11.
"If they aren't big and physical, they better be super fast and quick," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I think we all know that a lot of these games do come down to a very physical nature. You want big men to block as receivers, but you also want a guy who can take a shot.
"If a kid runs an under route or a slant and he's running through the gauntlet and he gets whacked by some of these linebackers and safeties, they have to be able to hold up. You want guys who are physically big enough to handle it. Like I said, if it's a smaller guy, he better be really, really fast and quick."
Jones and Green signed with their schools as the two highest-rated receivers nationally in the 2008 class. The 212-pound Green often has been compared to Randy Moss - "I follow his game; I don't follow his off-the-field issues," he said - while the 220-pound Jones is broader and more physical, drawing links to Terrell Owens.
Jeffery came along last year and has been labeled a combination of Green and Jones despite being even bigger than Jones at 233 pounds.
"He has everything that you need when the ball is up in the air," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said of Jeffery. "He's got the height and range to get it, and he's got the physicality not to get pushed around, and he's got the ball skills to adjust to any ball that's thrown to him. In a one-on-one setting, when the ball is up high, he's nearly unstoppable.
"I don't know how fast he is, but he was faster than our guys."
With 123 yards in last week's win over Troy, Jeffery extended his league-leading receiving totals to 1,210 yards. Jones is next with 885 yards, while Green's 674-yard total was hindered by his four-game NCAA suspension at the start of the season.
Green enters this weekend's matchup against Georgia Tech having played in only 17 of a possible 24 games the past two seasons because of injuries and his suspension, but one NFL team's director of scouting believes he is the elite receiver in an elite bunch.
"I'd have to go with A.J., with Alshon a close No. 2," the scout said. "With A.J., you see the talent. The size is there and the speed is there. The production is there when he plays.
"You saw what he did for Georgia's team when he came back. He's got it. I really don't worry about him too much."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.