Georgia’s third-most important player of 2015

Malcolm Mitchell, when healthy, has been one of the most dynamic players on Georgia's offense since coming to the team in 2011. (UGA sports communications).

Malcolm Mitchell, when healthy, has been one of the most dynamic players on Georgia’s offense since coming to the team in 2011. (UGA sports communications).

There’s a streak of worried paranoia that runs through much of the Georgia fan base – and I’m just pointing it out, not saying it’s unfounded – so doubtless when last week’s injury news on Justin Scott-Wesley came out, many thought the same thing:

Where is Malcolm Mitchell, is he all right, and how much duct tape will be required to wrap him up between now and September?

Mitchell, as if in response, on Tuesdsay posted an Instagram video (see below) of himself catching balls from various positions on the ground.

(Wait, on the ground? Why couldn’t he stand up? What’s wrong with his legs?!?!)

He’s fine, everybody, he’s just fine. … As far as I know.

So anyway, this all brings us to the final three in the series on Georgia’s most important players for the 2015 season, at least as can be judged at this point. For those who missed it:

No. 12 was freshman receiver Terry Godwin.

No. 11 was senior kicker Marshall Morgan.

No. 10 was the inside linebacker combo of juniors Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough.

No. 9 was sophomore receiver and return specialist Isaiah McKenzie.

No. 8 was senior left tackle John Theus.

No. 7 was the outside linebacking trio of Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd and Lorenzo Carter.

No. 6 was sophomore offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.

No. 5 was sophomore defensive back Dominick Sanders.

No. 4 was freshman defensive lineman Trent Thompson.

And now, in what should be no surprise given how we opened this post:

3. MALCOLM MITCHELL

Senior

Receiver

Malcolm Mitchell (UGA sports communications)

Malcolm Mitchell (UGA sports communications)

WHY HE’S VITAL: This is the point in the countdown where it probably doesn’t have to be explained, but we will anyway.

Mitchell is the team’s only proven and established wide receiver, making him indispensable to a passing game with questions at quarterback and, well, offensive coordinator. The only question about Mitchell is his health. His hands have never been an issue, nor his smarts, nor his speed prior to the ACL injury in 2013. He allayed some of those concerns in the latter half of last season, when he had 31 catches over the final nine games. He only averaged eight yards per catch, with a long of 23. Of course Georgia didn’t have much of a deep passing game last year, and Mitchell being brought back slowly was understandable.

Besides, Mitchell at his best isn’t just a deep guy. He can also make the tough catches, whether it’s to keep a drive alive or score a touchdown. Georgia badly needs that now that Chris Conley and Michael Bennett gone. But where Mitchell was different was the ability to take a shorter pass and turn it into a long gain or a touchdown. His catch-and-run against Florida in 2012 is probably his most memorable play at Georgia, and certainly his most important.

If Mitchell can go back to being that type of player, he will make Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta or Greyson Lambert a much better quarterback. He will make Brian Schottenheimer’s transition a lot easier. He will make safeties think about him rather than stack the box on Nick Chubb. And Mitchell will take some much-needed pressure off Isaiah McKenzie, Terry Godwin and the other young receivers, as well as Scott-Wesley, assuming he’s ready for the season.

QUOTABLE: “He adds playmaking ability, and everyone knows that. (But) I think the plays that he will make and the touchdowns that he will score will be secondary to his leadership. He’s been in every situation, he’s played in those big games, he’s made those game-saving plays. … Malcolm’s been around here, he knows the way it’s done. He knows what’s necessary for guys to get better. Even when they think they’ve gotten better, he knows how to take that and continue to build on it.” –  Conley

BEST CASE: Mitchell is back to his old form, stays healthy, and becomes an All-SEC first-teamer and an All-American candidate. He lifts the play of the passing game, which helps the running game too, and Georgia’s offense has another season of breaking records.

WORST CASE: Besides another injury? Mitchell just doesn’t end up looking like the dynamic player he was at his peak. The lack of another proven, gamebreaking receiver dooms the passing game, with McKenzie and Godwin not quite ready to carry the role. And defenses turn their focus squarely on the run. Schottenheimer’s first year at Georgia is a dud.

FINAL WORD: It all comes down to health. The best case scenario would be huge for Georgia, but even if Mitchell isn’t quite in 2012 form, he’s still a very good player at, say, 80 percent of his former self. When Mitchell tore his ACL on the second drive of the 2013 season, Georgia’s offense overcame it for awhile because it still had Conley and Bennett. Now it doesn’t.


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