If Georgia receiver George Pickens picks up where he left off last season, the rest of the Southeastern Conference could be in trouble.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore from Hoover, Alabama, is coming off one of the finest postseason showings in Bulldogs history, amassing 12 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown during Georgia's 26-14 dumping of Baylor in January's Sugar Bowl. Georgia did not have the services of receivers Dominick Blaylock and Lawrence Cager in New Orleans due to injuries, so the Bears entered the Superdome knowing they had to stop Pickens.
It didn't matter. Pickens was too good, and now he's even better.
"He has a really good grasp on the overall, entire system," Georgia fifth-year coach Kirby Smart said this week on a Zoom call. "At times last year he was a guy you had to put in a certain place and really explain what to do. He understands a lot more now about the bigger picture. What route is the other guy running? What is the coverage? What does the coverage do to change my route? How do I affect the play? Am I primary on this play? Am I the secondary on this play?
"He has a better understanding of all of those things, and that's important to the rest of our offense. George is a talented player who can make us better in other ways than just catching the ball."
Pickens pulled a recruiting stunner last year by signing with Georgia after being a longtime Auburn commitment, and he gave the Bulldogs their most heralded receiver recruit since A.J. Green in 2008. The five-star talent didn't disappoint, collecting 49 receptions for 727 yards and a team-high eight touchdown catches.
His 12 receptions in the Sugar Bowl tied a Georgia postseason record and were the most in any game for the Bulldogs in 17 years.
Pickens played last season in an offense guided by James Coley, who was replaced in January by Todd Monken. With stints the past decade as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, head coach of Southern Mississippi and offensive coordinator of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, Monken has displayed a more wide-open attack compared to recent Georgia offenses.
His expertise is receivers, which could be a tremendous benefit for Pickens.
"Last year, I just ran the route they told me to run, and I was trying to do it to the best of my ability," Pickens said. "Now, I know little things that he's seen from the teams he has been with, like the Browns with Odell (Beckham) and Jarvis Landry — tools he took from those guys he is showing me, and he helps me every day."
Pickens insists he is bigger and faster than a year ago, traits that can be viewed Saturday when the Bulldogs open their season at Arkansas (4 p.m. SEC Network).
Two members of the 2019 Bulldogs — safety Otis Reese (Ole Miss) and offensive lineman Cade Mays (Tennessee) — transferred to other SEC schools earlier this year but have not received immediate eligibility at their new destinations through the league office. Smart was asked about that during Wednesday's league teleconference.
"If a kid has a better opportunity to play somewhere else, and that's their choice, I want to support that young man," Smart said. "In the SEC, there are rules that are in place about going from one school to another that I'm not really in control of. That's not my decision, and that's not my rule. There are rules that were voted on by the ADs and presidents, and the commissioner has to uphold those.
"There have been many guys we've had who we've supported to play at other places, but within the conference, it's not something that has been a decision for us to make."