The Liberty Bowl was recently on the docket as continuous film work never ends while draft actual nears. The Georgia Bulldogs were downed by Central Florida, 10-6, during the December 31st meeting. Head scout Brent Sobleski breaks down the draft’s top receiver, A.J. Green, and looks at his yearly performance and potential to coincide with Georgia’s recent pro day experience.
Green was the obvious object of affection, both as the highest rated prospect playing in said contest as well as the game’s leading receiver. His statistics weren’t overly impressive with eight receptions for 77 yards. In fact, his season wasn’t particularly enticing based purely on the numbers: 57 receptions, 848 yards, and nine touchdowns. Despite the hard data, Green is still considered by most as a potential top ten selection and the number one rated receiver prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Three plays during the season define the ability of the 6-4 211-pound wide receiver.
Green exploded on the scene this season against Colorado after returning from a NCAA mandated four game suspension for selling a game worn jersey.
“You can talk to anybody I’ve been around,” he exclaimed during his press conference at the NFL Combine. “I don’t have any character concerns. It was simply bad judgment on my part.”
During his first appearance of the season, Green routinely beat cornerback Jalil Brown, a potential mid round selection and one of the players Green named as the toughest he faced in his career (along with LSU’s Patrick Peterson, Florida’s Janoris Jenkins, and fellow Buffalo Jimmy Smith).
“I match up with the best of them,” he confidently stated. “I’m tall, big, and physical.”
With 11:08 remaining in the second quarter of the Colorado game, Georgia trailed 14-3. The dawgs had driven the football to the 3-yard line. Redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray turned to his top target on third down. Murray threw a back shoulder fade to Green. The receiver had the cornerback totally turned around. Green was falling backwards. He still ensnared the football with an outstretched left hand for the touchdown. Any college football highlight reel from 2010 currently sports this reception, the first on our list, which exemplifies the dynamic nature of Green as a prospect.
The next spectacular catch came the very next game as the Bulldogs traveled to hated rival Tennessee. After a poor 1-4 start to the season, Georgia began to get on track with Green in the fold as they beat the Volunteers, 41-14. Green finished the day with 96 yards on six receptions, but the catch of note in this contest came during the team’s third scoring drive of the afternoon.
Murray looked deep towards the team’s X-receiver. Green was running a skinny post down the numbers. The cornerback was in a trail technique with the safety bearing down over the top. Green made an effortless over the shoulder reception and braced for impact even before his cleats hit the grass. The safety laid a thundering – but legal – hit to no avail. Green had secured the football and completed the 33-yard reception. His toughness to make catches in tight windows and over-the-middle cannot be questioned.
“I’m not going to settle with being an average receiver,” the receiver confidently boasts. “I take that to the heart to be one of the best. I don’t want to fall by the wayside and be the number one receiver coming out of school, then become just another guy. I want to be mentioned with the best.”
The final play of note came in the aforementioned Liberty Bowl game. It started simply enough. Murray dropped from center with a playaction fake to his right, rocked back to his left, and slung a basic zero route to Green who waiting for the football to arrive without having left the line of scrimmage. The receiver quickly took the pitch, read his block, and subsequently ran down the sidelines breaking five tackles along the way. Green displayed great desire and determination during the play and always looks for contact instead of tiptoeing out of bounds.
Once the season came to a close after Georgia’s lose to Central Florida, Green set his sights on the NFL.
He was asked to describe his strengths as a football player.
“My passion for the game,” Green said. “Also the love I have for the sport of football, which adds to my work ethic.”
Before Green turned his attention to his future, he reflected on his past.
“We had some ups and downs,” he mentioned when questioned about the Georgia’s 6-7 finished to the season. “The thing with this team, no matter what the situation was, we could go back and put on the film and it showed we were fighting every day.
“It’s a grind week in and week out. There aren’t any easy games in the SEC. I feel that helps you prepare for the next level just to compete every week.”
Green declared early as an underclassmen to follow his dream of playing professionally.
“(I left) because of my window of opportunity,” he detailed. “You have to close on it. It’s a small window. You have to capitalize on it from the start. At school I am very close to getting my degree. So I think this choice was the best for me and my family.”
First and foremost, how did playing for Georgia and coach Mark Richt help Green become the receiver he has?
“By running a pro style offense,” he answered. “I also had a chance to work with (Matt) Stafford. He taught me a lot.”
He also has one particular former Bulldog he uses as a sounding board.
“I’ve had Mo Massaquoi who has been my mentor since I stepped on campus,” Green revealed. “I go to him if I need any advice.
“When I talk to Mo, we really don’t talk football. He doesn’t like to talk football unless I ask him questions. It would be nice to play with him. I came in my freshman year and he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. It would be nice.”
Before envisioning his future career the path he may take come April 28th, Green knows he has room to grow.
“I still have to get hone my craft running routes, study my opponents a little more, improve my preparation and things along those lines,” he critiqued. “At the next level, everybody is great. I feel like I have to take it a little more seriously. You have to watch film because it’s not just who you are against, but the whole defense in general.”
These things may separate the slim differential between the Georgia product and another receiver with which he has been continually compared, Alabama’s Julio Jones.
The combine closed the gap between the two prospects, despite DraftInsider.net having Green rated as the number one overall prospect for 2011. Jones was bigger, faster, and jumped out of the Lucas Oil Stadium.
Statistically, the two are near mirror images. Over a three-year period, after both entered college as two of the nation’s top recruits, it’s hard to separate who had a better career when averaging their yearly totals.
A.J. Green: 55 receptions, 873 yards, 7 touchdowns, 15.9 yards per catch
Julio Jones: 59 receptions, 884 yards, 5 touchdowns, 15.0 yards per catch
“Julio (Jones) and I are just alike,” Green mentioned. “We don’t get caught up in the media. We’re just two athletes trying to be the best.
“He and I are working out of the API in Phoenix. We’re friends now, and we work out together.”
Both have also had concerns regarding injuries. Green had a grade three separation of his shoulder during his junior campaign. Jones battled through a broken hand, and now a broken foot, leading into this year’s draft.
As rumblings have begun that Jones may be favored on some team’s board, it’s inconsequential to Green.
“I’d just like to get this lockout out of the way first,” he said. “Then give me my playbook so I can study.”
(Sobleski can be followed on twitter @brentsobleski)