|Georgia's Returning Wide Receiver Production, Career Stats|
Georgia did not open spring practice in search of a weapon at the receiver position. That spot seemed pretty well covered.
While both Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are still battling back from injuries, a host of playmakers with extensive pass-catching experience is slated to be back on the field in 2014. With such notables as Chris Conley and Michael Bennett (both with over 1,200 career receiving yards) expected to continue stellar play, the options available to new full-time starting quarterback Hutson Mason will be vast.
And yet, a new star has emerged within the receiving corps. Rising senior Jonathon Rumph is now establishing himself as the X-factor in Georgia’s already potent offense.
Road to Relevance
Rumph began his collegiate career at Holmes Community College where he racked up 1,345 receiving yards on 87 catches over a two-year period. His production along with his elite size—Rumph stands 6'5"—put him on everyone’s recruiting radar as a part of the 2013 recruiting class.
According to 247Sports, the 4-star Rumph received scholarship offers from some of the nation’s most prominent programs, including Alabama, LSU and Florida. Ultimately, he committed early to the Bulldogs and enrolled last January.
After battling injuries for the majority of the 2013 season, Rumph finally saw playing time against Florida in Georgia’s eighth game of the season. In his next outing, he showed flashes of what made him such a celebrated recruit.
With the Dawgs protecting a healthy lead, then-starter Aaron Murray found his way to the sideline and Mason came under-center in the fourth quarter. Mason’s first pass attempt went for a 24 yard gain. Rumph was on the receiving in.
Mason found Rumph again on his second drive, this time for 21 yards. On Mason’s final drive he found Rumph two more times for pickups of 16 and 37 yards.
The chemistry between the two consummate backups was undeniable. Mason’s confidence in the seldom-used Rumph was evident and Rumph’s ability to capitalize on opportunities propelled him up the depth chart.
It will take more than the situational bond between two players rising up the ranks together for Rumph to make an impact in 2014. In other words, he won’t be able to ride Mason’s coattails into the starting lineup. Mason, a fifth-year senior, was for better or worse the obvious choice to replace Murray after graduation. Rumph, on the other hand, enters his final season as a Bulldog surrounded by more established competition at his own position.
That being said, Rumph has focused on a number of areas—both mental and physical—as he fights for a spot in the rotation. As he told Gentry Estes of 247Sports (Paid Access):
Where I feel like I’m better is being more flexible, understanding the plays, understanding the concepts of the offense, understanding the defense. Being a receiver ain’t just about playing offense. It’s about recognizing defense too. I feel like my knowledge is getting better. My technique is getting better, but I’ve still got a lot to work on.
According to Mason, Rumph’s preparations are paying off in a big way. The starting signal-caller told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald that Rumph could be the MVP of the receiving unit this spring. He added:
It’s just night and day from last spring. He’s always been that big-bodied guy that you thought you could just throw up to and he’d get it. He’s just flat out making more plays this spring than he was last spring, and it’s great to see a guy who’s that big of a target that you can have that mismatch.
If Rumph comes on strong this season, his story as a big, athletic receiver blooming late as a Dawg won’t be tremendously unique.
In 2012, former Bulldog (and current Baltimore Raven) Marlon Brown had a similarly timed breakout season. After arriving in Athens as a highly-touted recruit, Brown struggled to stay on the field during his first three seasons. Prior to his senior campaign he accounted for a meager 28 catches.
In his final year, however, the 6'4" Brown broke out of the shadow of his own potential. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Georgia’s ninth game, Brown was magnificent. Three times he registered 100-yard games and all three came against SEC competition. In his final season donning the red and black, Brown hauled in 27 passes for 469 yards (17.4 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
That’s the kind of season Rumph wants in 2014 and if he continues to heed the advice of Brown (with whom he has a close relationship) such aspirations are not far-fetched.
Rumph told Estes that Brown consistently offers advice to him. In particular, the older receiver encourages him to listen to his coaches and focus on leverage.
“He’s telling me ‘Work on the little things. You’re a big receiver. You’ve got to get low.’ He gives me tips like that, but mostly he just tells me to go out there and just play ball,” Rumph recounted.
If he masters the little things, Rumph will indeed be playing a lot of ball this fall. And that’s good news for Georgia’s offense.
Rumph adds a big-play dimension that even Georgia's most talented receivers cannot account for. He will be particularly useful in the red zone where his elite size and large hands will make him an ideal target for Georgia's beloved fade and corner routes.
Furthermore, with tight end Jay Rome still recovering from a foot injury, the onus of mid-range crossing routes in traffic may fall on the large frame of Rumph—at least early in the season.
Rumph is still fighting hard to crack the rotation permanently. But once he does, count on big things from the big receiver.