We're at the point now where you can guess the final four, just not the order. And you probably could have predicted the final two way back when this started. But first ... No. 4 in our list of the Georgia football team's most important players for the upcoming season.
I say this every day, but it bears repeating: This is not a ranking of the team's best players. Rather it's a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
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And let's stay on offense for ...
4. MALCOLM MITCHELL
WHY HE’S VITAL: Georgia’s offense can move the ball and score with Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and a good tight end, as it was shown last year. But Mitchell gives the offense a different dimension: The deep ball, as well as the threat that at any time he can take a short pass and take it to the house. The Florida game in 2012 is one example. Mitchell had four catches of 40 or more in 2012, and the team had 19 total. In his absence last year the team had only 11 such plays, six of them from receivers. For a time Justin Scott-Wesley filled part of the void, but he was lost to an ACL too. Now both are back, but Mitchell is more proven, and at this point the most versatile Georgia receiver: He’s fast, can catch a tough pass in traffic, and can run a clean route and get open. If he’s healthy and stays that way, his presence will force defenses to adjust, and Bennett and Conley will be even more effective. Last year defenses gradually figured out they could play close to the line and focus on Bennett and Conley, as well as Todd Gurley. This year Mitchell could open everything up and make Hutson Mason’s job so much easier.
QUOTABLE“It’s hard to go eight, 10-play drives all the time. You like those plays where you throw it out there and they take one to the house, or they take a swing pass and go for 20-to-30 yards. And we had to work for it a bit more last year. We still had our fair share of big plays, but not as many as we had the year before.” – offensive coordinator Mike Bobo
BEST CASE: Mitchell stays healthy and puts together the kind of season those around the program have always believed he could have. It’s hard to believe, but Mitchell’s best season thus far has been as a true freshman in 2011, when despite missing two games he had 45 catches, 665 yards and four touchdowns. His numbers decreased the next year because of nagging injuries, and he missed basically all of last year. A healthy Mitchell can easily catch more than 70 passes and rack up 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, though the quality of receivers probably means that won’t happen. A better way to put it: If Mitchell is healthy, Georgia’s overall passing numbers will go up, especially yards-per-pass attempt.
WORST CASE: Mitchell has to miss more time, and it finally catches up to the offense, which suffers from the lack of the big-play passing threat. Mason’s numbers aren’t as good as they could be.
FINAL WORD: Mitchell’s absence for last year is too often glossed over or even forgotten. He’s a difference-maker, and in retrospect, the fact Georgia had more passing yards without Mitchell last year is amazing, and testament to Aaron Murray and his supporting cast and the coaches. Could the Bulldogs survive again without him? The guess here is no.