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Brock Bowers was sensational last season. He was so good that sensational might not even be a strong enough adjective to describe his freshman season.
He set the school record for touchdown catches with 13. His 56 receptions were the most by a Georgia player since Kirby Smart. The same goes for his 882 receiving yards. He was a First Team All-American and won multiple Freshman of the Year awards.
Related: Kirby Smart confident in tight end Brock Bowers: ‘You know he’s wired the right way’
That Bowers did all that as a freshman is extremely encouraging for Georgia and the start tight end. With more time in a college strength and conditioning program, Bowers in theory has the potential to get even better going forward.
Given Georgia needs a more potent offense this year and that quarterback Stetson Bennett and offensive coordinator Todd Monken return, there’s a greater sense of familiarity with the offense than there was when Bowers arrived in January of 2020.
“He knows what he wants to do, he knows package plays that work well together,” Smart said of Monken. “Be who you are. If your strength is at wide-out, if your strength is at O-line, if your strength is at tight-end, if your strength is at running back, if your strength is at quarterback then use it. I think he has done a good job of bringing consistency in those areas and accountability to that side of the ball.”
But if it were so easy to build off a strong freshman season as a Georgia pass catcher, Bowers only needs to look at the recently drafted George Pickens to see that isn’t always the case.
Prior to Bowers’ 2022, Pickens’ freshman season was the high-water mark for a Georgia pass catcher. He hauled in 49 receptions for 727 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. While Georgia’s season didn’t end with a National Championship that year, Pickens caught 12 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.
Many stories were written about Pickens’ potential, whether that be as a possible first-round pick or as the first Georgia receiver to surpass 1,000 yards in a season since Terrence Edwards became the only Bulldog in program history to do it back in 2002.
Yet Pickens never reached the statistical highs of his freshman season.
His sophomore season saw Georgia shuffle around quarterbacks as Jamie Newman, D’Wan Mathis, Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels all had claims as Georgia’s QB1 during the 2020 season. Pickens’ eventually got in a groove once Daniels became the starter, but Pickens finished the year with 36 receptions for 513 yards and six touchdowns.
That was a shortened season for the Bulldogs, as Georgia played just 10 total games. Pickens though missed two of those contests with an injury. Availability was a problem during all three of Pickens’ years at Georgia. He was suspended two different times during his freshman season, missing a half against Georgia Tech and a half against LSU.
Then in March of 2021, Pickens tore an ACL that would keep him out of the first 11 games of Georgia’s 2021 season. Pickens deserves to be commended for coming back and having the impact that he did, but it wasn’t until the second game against Alabama that Pickens looked fully like his old self. He had just five receptions in the four games.
Still, because of Pickens’ natural talent, he went in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 52 pick. While he left Georgia as a champion, he never reached his ceiling as a Bulldog. And most of it was because of factors outside of his control.
Georgia also wasn’t healthy at wide receiver last year. Should the Bulldogs get better health from Dominick Blaylock, Kearis Jackson, Arian Smith and others, Bennett will likely funnel the ball less to Bowers going forward.
By the time the College Football Playoff rolled around, opposing teams knew about Bowers’ ability. Nick Saban called him one of the best players in America, which by that point Bowers clearly was.
Those games against Michigan and Alabama allowed him to experience life as a clear focal point for opposing defenses. Two of the best teams in the country made it a point to not let Bowers beat them.
Yet his natural ability still stymied those top schemes. While he had just nine catches for 91 yards, he also found the end zone at key times. He scored on the opening drive of Georgia’s win against Michigan. Then he walked into the endzone on Georgia’s final offensive play of the season, to put Georgia up 26-18 against Alabama.
Bowers exceed expectations as a freshman. Every time Bowers seemed to make a play, you wouldn’t have to wait long for him to do something even more impressive. If he keeps doing that, he’s got a real chance to be the most statistically productive pass catcher in Georgia history.
Yet he only has to look at what happened to Pickens to see that sometimes the road to glory is filled with potholes.