Georgia’s search for dynamic receivers intensifies

Bulldogs wide receiver Jermaine Burton (7) celebrates with Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) after scoring a TD near the end of the half against Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Bulldogs wide receiver Jermaine Burton (7) celebrates with Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) after scoring a TD near the end of the half against Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton /

ATHENS – Jermaine Burton will be back with Georgia’s receivers eventually. For that the Bulldogs are thankful.

The sophomore wideout from Calabasas, Calif., suffered a knee injury late in Tuesday’s practice and had to be carted off the field for further examination. Persons with knowledge of situation said Burton’s injury was determined to be a hyperextension with no apparent structural damage. UGA still has not offered comment.

If all true, that’s extremely good news. Hyperextensions typically require two to four weeks of rest and recovery, though treatment likely will continue for several weeks to monitor for weaknesses or undetected structural damage. In any case, Burton is out for the rest of spring ball.

Burton’s injury — and George Pickens’ ACL tear that preceded it — underscore Georgia need to produce high-caliber wideouts in bulk going forward. As the Bulldogs and quarterback JT Daniels return to the field for their eighth of 15 spring practices on Thursday, they’ll do so with a high priority on identifying the most explosive wideouts remaining.

Coach Kirby Smart’s stated goal is for Georgia to compete for championships. If the last three national champions have proven nothing else, it’s that you must throw the ball often and you absolutely can’t have enough exceptional receivers to catch it.

  • When Clemson won the 2018 national championship, quarterback Trevor Lawrence had four receivers that caught 46 or more of his passes. They included Tee Higgins (59 receptions-936 yards-12 TDs), Justyn Ross (46-1,000-9), Amari Rodgers (55-575-4) and Hunter Renfrow (49-544-1).
  • In 2019, LSU and quarterback Joe Burrow put together one of the most explosive passing teams in college football history. While completing 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards, 60 TDs and six interceptions, the majority of Burrow’s throws went to five targets: wideouts Justin Jefferson (111-1,540-18), Ja’Marr Chase (84-1,780-20) and Terrace Marshall (46-671-13); running back Clyde Edwards-Hellaire (55-453-1); and tight end Thaddeus Moss (47-570-4).
  • Alabama had a similar but slightly less diverse setup on the way to the 2020 national championship. The grand majority of Mac Jones’ passes (77.4%-4,500-41-4) went to Heisman Trophy-winning wideout DeVonta Smith (117-1,856-23). But fellow receiver John Metchie (55-916-6) had a lot of balls come his way, too. And slotback Jaylen Waddle had 28 for 591 yards and four TDs before a broken ankle sidelined him for the year in the fifth game.

Here’s the boiled down commonality of those three teams: The top four receivers on each team averaged 62 catches per season between them.

Georgia’s top four receivers averaged 31.3 catches apiece the past two seasons, and 28.7 last season.

That’s not exactly breaking news. The Bulldogs generally run the ball more than those other teams. But Alabama coach Nick Saban went on a rant recently when talking to Louisiana High School coaches during a clinic about how defense and the run game doesn’t win championships anymore.

“You aren’t going to win anything now doing that,” Saban said. “Because, (a) the way the spread is, the way the rules are, to run RPOs. The way the rules are that you can block downfield and throw the ball behind the line of scrimmage. I mean those rules have changed college football; no-huddle fastball has changed college football.

“I changed my philosophy about five or six years ago … We said we have to outscore em.”

Losing Waddell last season made Alabama an exception among the past three national champions. It was the only title-team to lose one of its primary receivers to injury during the season.

Georgia has, of course, already lost its top target in Pickens. Burton played flanker every game last season, but he was already working at Pickens’ split end position before Pickens went down. So Daniels essentially will be working with the No. 3 split end going forward.

Burton now is one of only two truly proven wide-receiver targets heading into the 2021 season. He was Georgia’s third-leading receiver last season (27-404-3). The other is junior Kearis Jackson (36-514-3), who primarily plays slotback.

The bodies of work of the remaining returnees are incomplete, at best: sophomore Dominick Blaylock (18-310-3 in 2019), sophomore Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (4-62-1), senior Demetris Robertson (43-443-3 in career) and redshirt freshman Arian Smith (2-86-1).

Among the yet-unseen are redshirt freshmen such as Justin Robinson (6-4, 220), Ladd McConkey (6-0, 175) and freshmen Jackson Meeks (6-2, 205) and Adonai Mitchell (6-4, 190).

If Georgia wants to reproduce the kind of multidimensional passing attack demonstrated by the past three national champions, it’s clear that at least three or more of those players are going to have extremely productive seasons. And, more importantly, stay healthy.

That starts with Burton.

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