By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Much like the front seven on defense, judging these two teams’ skill position players accurately requires some perspective. Thinking about how both staffs intend to use their receivers will allow for a fair comparison based on the expected production from each group.
Simply put, Georgia’s receivers—as a total group—will not be expected to do as much as Clemson’s receivers because of the system in which they play. The differences will be outlined later, but looking at the issue with the proper perspective helps make what is essentially an apples-to-oranges comparison more logical.
In Georgia’s I-formation set, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo only needs two quality wide receivers on the field at the same time. One of them will certainly be junior Malcolm Mitchell, the Bulldogs’ second-best receiver last season. He is the type of player who can be utilized in a number of different ways to maximize his effectiveness.
Mitchell was used extensively on special teams last season, and he even registered 12 tackles as a fill-in at cornerback. Now focused solely on playing receiver, his numbers should make a significant jump.
On the other side, sophomore Michael Bennett should get the lion’s share of the chances. He has a bigger frame than Mitchell at 6-foot-3 and should give Aaron Murray a much-needed field-stretcher on the outside. Bennett was poised for a breakout year last year, catching 24 balls in the team’s first five games and leading the team with an average of 69 yards per contest, before an injury derailed the remainder of the year.
There is some experienced depth returning for the Bulldogs at wide receiver this season. Junior Chris Conley caught six touchdown passes a year ago, including a pair of long ones against Nebraska in the bowl game, and rising seniors Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan combined for 27 receptions.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris likes to employ three-receiver sets, so his system requires more playmakers at the position than Bobo’s. The obvious leader of the group is junior Sammy Watkins, a legitimate award candidate at wideout this season.
Watkins’ numbers during what was considered a disappointing 2012 campaign would be more than sufficient for the vast majority of the nation’s receivers. He caught 57 passes for 708 yards and three touchdowns in only 10 games a season ago, and most projections would have him surpassing those numbers—barring injury, of course—in 2013.
It remains to be seen how Watkins will be used in the running game or on special teams. However, there is no doubt whatsoever who the most important skill player in Clemson’s offense is.
Outside of Watkins, fellow junior Adam Humphries should grab a high volume of passes. He was the third-leading pass-catcher for the Tigers a year ago (41 receptions) and provides a key third-down option and possession receiver for Tajh Boyd.
The other outside starter is junior Charone Peake, who caught 25 passes last season and is a candidate for a breakout year. Another such player might be junior Martavis Bryant, Watkins’ backup, who averaged over 30 yards per catch last season. Keep an eye on Germone Hopper, a redshirt freshman who wowed observers on the scout team last season.
The Bottom Line: Both schools boast talented receiving corps led by upper-echelon players and mostly comprised of raw, but talented players looking to make a splash. I think Watkins is a better star-quality player than Mitchell, and I also think the rest of the key components pretty much cancel each other out, hence my decision to give a slight edge to the Tigers.