Continuous film work never ends as the NFL Draft nears. The Liberty Bowl, which Georgia beat Central Florida 10-6 on Dec. 31, was recently on the docket and the review happened to coincide with Georgia's pro day March 22.
Wide receiver A.J. Green was the object of affection during the bowl game. Green was the highest rated prospect playing and he finished as the game's leading receiver. Green's statistics weren't overly impressive (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 (6-foot-4, 211 pounds) is still considered by most as a potential top 10 selection and the No. 1-rated receiver prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft.
During the regular season, three plays defined his abilities.
First, Green exploded on the scene this season against Colorado on Oct. 2. Green did not play in Georgia's first four games because he was suspended by the NCAA for selling a game-worn jersey.
"You can talk to anybody I've been around," Green said during an interview at the NFL Combine. "I don't have any character concerns. It was simply bad judgment on my part."
Against Colorado, Green routinely beat cornerback Jalil Brown, who is a potential mid-round draft pick. Brown is 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 Brown's teammate, Jimmy Smith.
"I match up with the best of them," Green said. "I'm tall, big, and physical."
With 11 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Georgia trailed 14-3, but the Bulldogs were at Colorado's 3-yard line. On third-and-goal, Georgia redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray threw a back shoulder fade to Green. The receiver had the cornerback totally turned around. Green was falling backwards, but he still snared the football with an outstretched left hand for the touchdown. Any college football highlight reel from 2010 currently sports this reception. It exemplifies the dynamic nature of Green as a prospect.
His next spectacular catch came the very next game, as Georgia 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 the Bulldogs beat the Volunteers 41-14. Green finished with 96 yards on six receptions, but the catch of note came during the team's third scoring drive.
Murray looked deep towards his X-receiver with 2:06 remaining in the first quarter. Green was running a skinny post down the numbers. The cornerback was in a trail technique with the safety was 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 issued a thundering — but legal — hit to no avail. Green had secured the football and completed the 33-yard reception. Green's 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," Green said. "I take that to the heart to be one of the best. I don't want to fall by the wayside and be the No. 1 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. It started simply enough as the first quarter was coming to a close. Murray dropped from center with a playaction fake to his right, rocked back to his left and slung a basic zero route to Green. The receiver quickly took the pitch after running the short stop route near the line of scrimmage, 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.
As Georgia's season came to a close, Green began to look toward the NFL. He was asked to discuss his playing strengths.
"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, which included Georgia's 6-7 season.
"We had some ups and downs," he said. "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."
Then, the receiver turned his sights to the NFL. Green declared as an underclassmen to follow his dream of playing professionally.
"(I left) because of my window of opportunity," he said. "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."
On the field, Green credited Georgia's offensive philosophy that helped him develop into one of college football's best wide receiver.
"(Georgia runs) a pro style offense," he said. "I also had a chance to work with (Matt) Stafford. He taught me a lot."
Green also has a former teammate — now in the NFL — that he uses as a sounding board.
"Mo Massaquoi has been my mentor since I stepped on campus," Green said. "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 28, 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 said. "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."
Green vs. Jones
Green's work ethic and desire to improve 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. Jones was bigger, faster, and jumped out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Statistically, the two are mirror images. During 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.
Green: 55 receptions, 873 yards, 7 touchdowns, 15.9 yards per catch
Jones: 59 receptions, 884 yards, 5 touchdowns, 15.0 yards per catch
"Julio and I are just alike," Green said. "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.
Rumblings have begun that Jones may be favored on some team's boards, but 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."