We continue our detailed position group previews this week with a look at UGA’s Inside Receivers for 2022. While much of the talk this offseason has been rightfully focused on UGA’s potentially historic group of Tight-Ends, the Dawgs will quietly deploy one of the best groups of inside receivers in the SEC and maybe all of college football.
In 2021, 56.2% of Stetson Bennett’s pass attempts came in the middle of the field. That was down slightly from the 61.5% of his attempts that came between the hashes in 2020, but it’s still fair to say that he seems most comfortable working routes between the hashes.
We talked about a relative lack of depth at the X and Z positions when I previewed UGA’s Outside Receivers, but the good news for UGA is that where they have depth lines up well with where Bennett is most comfortable throwing the ball.
Only two players on Georgia’s roster saw over half of their snaps in the slot last year- Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock.
Kearis Jackson returns to the fold for Georgia this season after battling injuries all of last year. He looked healthy on G-Day and that translated to a lot of crisp routes, good catches away from the body, and consistent yards after the catch. In many ways 2021 was a throw away year for Jackson. He manned punt returns despite being nowhere close to 100% and made some nice plays on days when he felt good, but the injury bug just never seemed to leave him.
Seeing his return to form in the spring is a good reminder that Jackson was Bennett’s favorite target in 2020. He lead UGA in yards (514) and Yards Per Route Run (2.25 YRR), was tied for 2nd in targets (52) and tied for the team lead in receptions (36). Looking back on his 2020 season, the only thing you could ask to see is a higher contested catch percentage. He only hauled in 1 of his 11 contested targets that year.
Jackson only saw 16 receptions and 22 targets in 2021 while taking 92.6% of his snaps in the slot. In a lot of situations he was on the field because he is an excellent downfield blocker and knows UGA’s system very well.
I expect 2022 to be a big year for Jackson. He has a chance to see a high number of targets. Back in 2021 he caught 9 of the 12 targets he saw on throws of 10 or more yards in the middle of the field. He turned 3 of those receptions into touchdowns and Bennett had a 156.3 QB Rating when targeting Jackson on those throws.
When you watch back clips of Bennett and Jackson from 2021 you see a QB/WR combo that was seeing the same things. Todd Monken’s offense features a lot of “Option Routes” throughout the playbook. Those routes rely on both the QB and WR to read the coverage and see the same thing. You can see on some of the plays I put together here that Bennett and Jackson had a mutual understanding of where Kearis would sit down.
Jackson’s name has been thrown out a lot when talking to sources this summer. Arian Smith and CJ Smith might be the names that UGA fans think of most when talking about high end speed, but Jackson impressed at Georgia’s internal combine. One source told me he may be one of the fastest playing skill guys in the country. His lateral quickness is elite and he hits top gear quickly. In spring ball he was clocked at over 21 MPH on a reception. I was told that play happened in full pads and it wasn’t on a straight line. I’m high on #10 in 2022.
Dominick Blaylock has been waiting for this moment. He started to breakout in 2019 before tearing his ACL in the SEC Championship against LSU. Reports were positive about his recovery before he tore yet another ACL in practice the following fall.
Blaylock returning to action was a nice headline late in the 2021 season, but this spring “Blaylock is back” texts started coming in from spring practice observes more frequently. On G-Day we saw what the buzz was about. Blaylock grabbed 5 catches for 67 yards, and the route running ability was back on display. He showed precision on high-level routes like the Inside Fade he caught from Carson Beck.
Here’s a fun piece of trivia for you… PFF started keeping stats on Yards Per Route Run (YRR) in 2014. Which UGA wide-receiver or tight-end who was part of the regular rotation has had the highest YRR in a season since then?
The answer is Dominick Blaylock’s 3.10 YRR in 2019. He did that while taking 94.2% of his snaps out of the slot. Out of all 2019 pass catchers, Fromm’s QB Rating was highest when targeting Blaylock.
Deep Outs, 15-Yard Ins, Inside Fades, Motion Bubbles, Quick Slants, Skinny Posts, Quick Hitches… Blaylock flashed a full grasp of a wide array of routes as a true freshman in 2019. With Jermaine Burton no longer at UGA, there is a good chance that Blaylock is the player who Monken has running the widest array of routes in 2022. Here’s a look at all the ways he was used by Coley in 2019, and if I know one thing for sure it is that Monken has a lot more creative ways to get him touches than Coley ever did.
He is an X-Factor that most people aren’t factoring into the equation when calculating what they think Georgia’s offense will look like in 2022. If healthy he is one of the best route runners in college football, and when you couple his skills in the screen game with what McConkey and Jackson can do on those plays it can create a lot of easy yards for UGA this season.
Blaylock has shown he can get behind a defense but he can also create space in tight quarters. There is a lot that Todd Monken can do with a guy like that. Keep an eye on him from the jump.
Ladd McConkey is a guy I talked about a lot in our Outside Receivers preview. Because he has a slighter build and a reputation as a good route runner, many assume that McConkey plays the slot. In 2021 he took just over half of his snaps as Georgia’s Z-Receiver.
How the rotation shakes out and which players emerge will determine where McConkey sees the majority of his snaps this season. He is a player who has shown he can be relied upon in both positions. I think UGA’s staff would be happy if they could use him with Jackson and Blaylock in a three-man rotation at slot receiver, with two of them often on the field at the same time.
Wherever he plays, McConkey’s efficency demands more targets. Georgia QB’s had a higher QB Rating when targeting him last year than any other pass catcher. He lead the team in Contested Catch Percentage, was 2nd in YRR with 2.71, and had the highest Yards Per Reception on screens of any UGA player last year. He also lead Georgia in missed tackles forced after the catch in 2021.
I have already bought McConkey’s stock for 2022. If he does play in the slot, it lines up well with what we saw him do last year. He saw 24 targets between the hashes and caught 21 of them for 308 yards and 4 TD’s. Despite playing more snaps as an outside receiver, 61.5% of his targets came in the middle of the field.
Dillion Bell is another name worth watching in 2022. The freshman lined up everywhere for his high school team last year, so it’s a bit of a guess as to where Georgia will use him this season. The whispers about him are getting louder, and it sounds like he could have an AD Mitchell kind of impact if called upon in 2022.
At 6’1” and 214 pounds he is built like a running back and is an explosive athlete. He’s the type who could take a short pass and turn in a lot of work after the catch. Keep an eye on him if you see him on the field against Oregon. Georgia may try to run some plays through him early in the year when defenses are keying in on other targets who are more established threats.
I really like Bell’s route running ability. He makes sound cuts and he works well in traffic. He runs nice in-routes to the middle of the field, which is what you want in a prototypical slot receiver. What he brings that many inside receivers don’t is great contested catch ability. I’m also a fan of the timing he shows on routes like inside fade patterns to the sideline. Monken has these types of concepts littered throughout his system.
One other thing to note on Bell… His high-school used him as a passer on trick plays on multiple occasions and he can sling a nice deep ball. He threw 7 TD’s during his prep career. Don’t be surprised if Monken uses him on a throw back play or lets him toss a pass off of an end-around. If it doesn’t happen this year I bet it does before his time at UGA is up.
One of the more underrated talking points around Georgia this offseason is how well Todd Monken ran his offense despite a rash of injuries to key pass catchers last year. Those guys are healthy again, and youngsters who were forced to step into starring roles in 2021 return as well.
The result is a deep and talented group of slot guys who have all shown the ability to be extremely productive in the past. Expect the Bulldogs to use Jackson, Blaylock and McConkey early and often while featuring them in the screen game to even out touches and provide plenty of chances to produce explosive plays.
Join us later this week as I take a look at the room everyone is buzzing about heading into this season and preview UGA’s 2022 Tight Ends.