Finding a way to replace George Pickens’ production will be no easy task, as Tom Fornelli shows:
As shown in the table below, Pickens ran the most routes of any Georgia player in the first four games of the season (he missed the team’s games against Kentucky and Florida due to injury), but was third in targets.
You’ll notice how the shorter the average route depth is for each player listed how much more efficient and productive they were, with running back James Cook and tight end John FitzPatrick doing the most with the least.
It wasn’t until Pickens returned from his injury and Daniels took over as the team’s starter that Pickens began to look like his old self. Let’s look at this same chart with the same players, but with Daniels at QB, and replace James Cook with Kenny McIntosh who played a bigger role out of the backfield during this stretch.
Pickens’ average route depth stayed effectively the same, but his efficiency exploded with Daniels. He improved his catch rate on targets by a full 10%, and his yards per target exploded from 1.01 to 11.66. In short, he became the kind of big-play receiver that Georgia was hoping it had and that it needs if it’s going to win a national title.
As you can see when looking at the two charts, it’s not just Pickens’ numbers that improved. The other receivers and tight end became more efficient, while the running back became less critical but still productive.
So, what to do if you’re Kirby Smart and Todd Monken? Every damn thing.
“You take your best 11 football players and you try to find ways. That could be one back, three tight end. That could be three back, one tight end. That could be five wides, no backs, no tight ends. You find your best football players and you find ways to get them the ball and that’s what I think coach Monken does a great job of. He’s going to try to exploit whoever you are playing’s weaknesses and he’s going to try to use our strengths to do that with. We have plays that we call that are the same plays we call in all personnel groupings, it’s just another way to get another playmaker the ball. We lost a guy who is a pretty good playmaker but we’ve got other guys who we think are good playmakers and we’ll just try to find ways to get them the ball.”
Kirby’s right about that. Once Daniels was inserted into the starting lineup, Monken’s ability to exploit defenses really shone.
But, when in doubt, there’s always the old tried and true ($$).
“I think we’re enough run-oriented and we have a strong enough offensive line that people have to honor and commit to the run and they’re not able to put a lot of doubles out there on people,” Smart said.