ATHENS — A recent ESPN article noting second-year players “who will make a bigger impact in 2020” featured six SEC players.
Amazingly, none were from Georgia, despite the Bulldogs having the No. 2 signing class in 2019 including five 5-star prospects.
Perhaps the Georgia media guide got lost from the ESPN author’s office?
Tom Vanharren penned a well-done article for the ESPN-plus pay site and made note of several key second-year players in the SEC.
Some blossoming East Division stars were among the six from the league listed by ESPN, including South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens, Florida CB Kaiir Elam and Tennessee RB Eric Gray.
Alas, the Bulldogs have some strong second-year candidates, even if they didn’t make the ESPN cut.
Here are 6 second-year Georgia players who will definitely take a step up in production in 2020:
1. WR George Pickens
This seems rather obvious, but perhaps some aren’t aware of just how much more productive Pickens can get after his team-high 49 catches for 727 yards and 8 touchdowns last season.
Fact is, Pickens should clear 1,000 yards and have 70 catches this season based off last season’s numbers alone.
Pickens was still learning the offense as a true freshman and didn’t have any catches in two of the first four games, and he was suspended for half of two other games. That’s three games of essentially no production, and that won’t be the case this season barring injury.
2. LB Nakobe Dean
A high ankle sprain lingered into the middle of the season for this 5-star prospect from Mississippi, even as defensive coordinator Dan Lanning deployed him on third down in pass situations.
Dean played behind senior Tae Crowder last season, a 2020 NFL Draft pick of the New York Giants. He would seem primed to earn the starting job next to veteran Monty Rice in the Bulldogs’ base 3-4 defense.
Dean was named a co-winner of Georgia’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award at the team banquet, and he could triple his number of tackles (25) and QB hurries (5) from a season ago.
3. FS Lewis Cine
This 4-star safety from Texas was rated the No. 45 overall prospect in the nation and he looked every bit the part in starting the final two games of the season against LSU and Baylor.
The 6-foot-2 Cine, who has bulked up from his 185-pound playing weight of last season, turned in six tackles against both the Tigers and the Bears. Scarce playing time behind veteran J.R. Reed had limited him to just 8 tackles through the first 12 games.
Cine had previewed his skills with 8 tackles in the 2019 G-Day Game, and he surely has earned points with Kirby Smart by being the Co-Winner of the Special Teams Newcomer of the Year Award. Fifty tackles and 3 interceptions are realistic goals for 2020.
4. DL Travon Walker
Another Georgia 5-star on the brink of stardom, the 6-5, 285-pound Walker was opening eyes from the onset of the season as a member of the kickoff team. Could a young man that big actually be moving that fast and that agile?
The answer was “yes,” and likewise for his toughness, as he overcame a broken wrist which required surgery and forced him to miss two games in the middle of the season.
It was Walker who came up with the game-winning sack on Auburn QB Bo Nix in the final moments of a 21-14 win at Auburn last season.
It was also Walker splitting the Defensive Newcomer of the Year award with Dean and one other player at the team banquet. Walker should triple his 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks from a season ago, at a minimum.
5. RB Kenny McIntosh
McIntosh was a 4-star, Top 200 prospect coming out of Pompano Beach in South Florida, supposedly “a below average athlete” for the position in terms of long speed and change of direction,” per a 247Sports national writer.
The 6-1, 210-pound McIntosh ripped off UGA’s longest run of the season (62 yards) despite getting just 25 carries, and he led the backfield with a 7 yards-per-carry average.
McIntosh looks to be the No. 2 running back entering this season behind Zamir White, but the competition could heat up as the year progresses.
James Cook and Kendall Milton are also expected to compete for carries, but McIntosh could surpass the 500 yards rushing and 16 receptions Brian Herrien accounted for in the No. 2 role last season.
6. OLB Nolan Smith
Remember Smith, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 signing class out of the IMG Academy?
It won’t likely take long for this 6-3, 235-pound pass rush specialist to impact the 2020 season from his outside linebacker role, even if he’s not starting.
Smith played behind Freshman of the Year semifinalist Azeez Ojulari and split snaps with No. 1-rated JUCO signee Jermaine Johnson last season and still managed to get 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Those numbers could quadruple this season, as Lanning will find a way to get Smith more snaps on the field.
Georgia football preseason stories
Georgia In The News