On the surface one could argue that the UGA receiver rotation underachieved in 2022. You’d have to look just right, turn your head a little, and squint. But the argument could be made.
How? Well, three of the Bulldogs’ top four receivers on the season weren’t actually wide receivers. Ladd McConkey (58 receptions for 762 yards and 7 touchdowns) was the only Red and Black receiver to go for more than 23 receiving yards per game. He was also the only one to snag more than 3 touchdown passes. Georgia had a phenomenal passing offense in 2022 (15th nationally and 3rd in the SEC in yards per game). But the statistical beneficiaries of Stetson Bennett’s stunning generosity with the ball were tight ends (Bowers and Washington) and a tailback (Kenny McIntosh).
And attrition didn’t leave the unit unscathed. Gone are major contributors AD Mitchell (9 receptions for 134 yards and 3 touchdowns), Dominick Blaylock (15 catches for 227 yards), and Kearis Jackson (21 receptions for 320 yards). So a unit that lagged in production in 2022 loses roughly 30% of its contribution going into 2023. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, right?
Wrong. So wrong. As any keen observer knows the Bulldog wide receivers suffered last season from a cornucopia of weapons at other positions. Brock Bowers led the team in receiving yards and got many of those while split out at receiver. When discussing the receiver rotation it feels like Bowers has to be a part of the conversation despite the “TE” next to his name in your program. Likewise Kenny McIntosh’s uncanny ball skills, which produced 45 catches for 504 yards in 2022, were too magical a weapon for Todd Monken not to unholster at every available opportunity.
And of course, there’s Badd Ladd. Over two seasons in Athens the Murray County Mangler has gone for 89 receptions, 1209 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He’s a bona fide Biletnikoff Award contender and a real threat to be Georgia’s first 1,000 yard receiver since Terrance Edwards in 2002.
He’ll be joined in the rotation by a trio of returners who’ve shown solid potential. Dillon Bell (20 catches, 180 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2022) was headed for an even larger role before he was slowed by injuries in camp. However by the end of the 2022 campaign he was a legitimate threat. Arian Smith returns for his fourth season in the Classic City having managed only 12 total catches in the preceding three seasons. Injuries have been the issue.
Smith has averaged an eye-popping 32.2 yards per catch over three seasons. Like a Ferrari he’s spent most of each year in the shop, but when he’s on the road there’s no one faster. If he can stay healthy in 2023 there’s every reason to think he could have a special season.
Finally Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint returns as one of the most reliable receivers no one outside Georgia seems to know about. He snagged 29 passes for 337 yards in 2022, but 9 of those were on 3rd down. 10 were inside the opponent’s 40. In short, whereas Smith is the deep threat who can bite off big chunks of yardage Rosemy-Jacksaint is the guy you can count on when 3rd and 8 happens.
As if those veterans didn’t provide enough of a core, the Bulldogs’ went out and added the top 2022 receivers from Mississippi State (RaRa Thomas) and Missouri (Dominick Lovett) in the transfer portal. Lovett in particular was the 5th leading receiver in the SEC in 2022 and would have led the Red and Black in yards of only he hadn’t been wearing black and gold.
And that’s to say nothing of a talented corps of young receivers including Jackson Meeks, Cole Speer, De’Nylon Morrissette, Mekhi Mews, Anthony Evans, CJ Smith, Yazeed Haynes, and Tyler Williams. Meeks in particular seems primed for a breakout entering his third season in Athens, with prototype size, solid hands, and above average speed. Mews is electric with the ball in his hands, and showed flashes during G Day as a kick returner. Morrissette caught 4 passes as a true freshman and also has earned praise from the staff. Georgia only needs a couple of these guys to earn a spot in the rotation to be as deep as anyone in the nation at the receiver position, one which for years the Bulldogs struggled to recruit.
The key to success for the UGA receiving corps however is clear. They have to stay healthy. It’s been the challenge for most of the key contributors listed above. At times (see the 2019 SEC Championship Game against LSU) the ‘Dawgs have barely had enough healthy bodies to run a three receiver set. That’s not likely to be an issue this year, but a knee here and a groin there could make this unit look a little in the young side very quickly. Still, the talent is undeniable and deep. Pity Mike Bobo and Carson Beck trying to figure out who gets the ball, because there are a lot of options. Until later…