ATHENS — The general thought on the Georgia Bulldogs heading into the 2019 season is they’re going to be better offensively than defensively. There’s data beyond tackles and touchdowns that backs that up.
The Bulldogs already have been established as a consensus Top 4 team and one of the favorites to contend for a College Football Playoff spot this coming season. Obviously, that means coach Kirby Smart has put together a talented squad for a third year in a row.
But DawgNation has taken a closer look and broken down the projected starting lineup for the Bulldogs’ season opener on the road at Vanderbilt (Aug. 31, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network) to examine exactly what is the recruiting profile and makeup of what’s expected to be perhaps Smart’s best team so far.
Some of the revelations are surprising, some not so much.
For instance, we all know that Smart and his staff have been all-star recruiters since they arrived in town. His first four classes at Georgia have carried an average national recruiting ranking of No. 3 (6, 3, 1, 2, respectively). The one currently being assembled for 2020 is ranked No. 4 at the moment. So it follows that Georgia should be fielding good teams.
Accordingly, the majority of the projected starting lineup for this year’s opener comes from the last three classes. While some from the 2016 class might be considered holdovers from the previous regime, Smart gets full credit for the last three and, by extension, the majority of this year’s squad.
That will be reflected in the projected lineup against the Commodores. Only six of the starting 22 came from the 2016 class or before. Linebacker Tae Crowder holds the distinction of being the sole Mark Richt recruit in the starting lineup. Then again, there just aren’t that many redshirt seniors on the team, period.
A few other observations from the accumulated data:
- Fifteen of the 22 projected offensive and defensive starters (68.2%) are from the state of Georgia. That includes guys from places like IMG Academy in Florida. That’s where they attended high school briefly, not their residence. The other starters are from Florida (2), Alabama (1), New York (1), North Carolina (1), Pennsylvania (1) and Texas (1).
- The average star-rating for Georgia’s offensive players versus its defensive players is 4.09 to 3.82. That’s based on the industry-accepted composite ranking of 247Sports, which takes into account the rankings of all services. Therefore, to be considered a 5-star, one must be a consensus 5-star and not just garner the rating from one service.
- It’s a moving target but the Bulldogs at one time had the most 5-star recruits in college football on its roster. Six are expected to be in the starting lineup versus Vandy, three on offense and three on defense.
- Stars aren’t the best measure for one’s recruiting pedigree, however. There are high-4-stars and low-4-stars are everything in between. Fortunately, the 247 composite goes deep in their assessment and gives each individual prospect a national ranking. And that’s where the makeup of Georgia’s lineup gets really interesting.
- On offense, the average national ranking of each individual player is 181. That includes a high of No. 1 for receiver Demetris Robertson and a low of 1,051 for left guard Solomon Kindley. The average national position ranking on that side of the ball is 21.09, though not every player plays the same position now at which he was projected as a prospect.
- The defense is notably lower-rated on all counts. The average national prospect ranking is a fluffy 555.4. The average national position ranking is 50.18, though many of the players aren’t playing those projected positions.
- The lowest, or worst, ranking on defense belongs to Tae Crowder, who was rated the 1,863rd prospect in the Class of 2015. But that was as a wide receiver. Crowder actually was signed by the Bulldogs as a running back and now he’s a middle linebacker. So do with that what you wish.
- Senior J.R. Reed was actually rated just seven spots higher than Crowder at 1,856. He was considered a cornerback then. Now he’s an All-America candidate at free safety.
- The highest ranking on the defensive side of the ball belongs to cornerback Tyson Campbell. He’s was rated 12th overall and No. 2 at his position when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Of course, he lost his starting position last year to Eric Stokes, ranked 668th and 63rd at cornerback out of Covington’s Eastside High.
What’s it all mean?
Really, only that good players come from everywhere in all shapes and sizes and with widely varying prospect profiles. That’s why scouting and development are so important, and the Bulldogs seem to be scoring well on both counts.
Also, we can quibble all summer and into the fall about who will actually be in the starting lineup. There’s not a lot of argument to be made about quarterback Jake Fromm or running back D’Andre Swift. But, otherwise, Georgia has a bunch unresolved position battles heading into preseason camp. And Smart likes to mix-and-match situationally, especially on defense, so that’s a moot exercise.
For the sake of transparency, we went with Demetris Robertson in the slot. He may not end up actually being in the starting lineup and his No. 1 ranking might’ve inflated slightly the overall offensive rating. But if he’s not, his playing time might default to either of two other 5-star signees Dominick Blaylock or George Pickens, or at least high 4-star Kearis Jackson. Conversely, though, the low-rated offensive line prospect Kindley could be supplanted in the starting lineup by any one of several 5-stars, which would take the overall ranking higher.
Defensively, there’s still a lot to be sorted out, too. We went with 5-star signee Brenton Cox at the jack outside linebacker, but that could easily have gone to fellow 5-stars Adam Anderson or Robert Beal. Should freshman Nolan Smith end up winning the position, it’d inflate the ranking even more as he was considered the No. 1 overall prospect in America. Same with Nakobe Dean at inside linebacker.
There are many other conclusions to draw from this data. And, of course, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State could make many of the same claims.
But breaking it down this way and debating who’s going to be where is a fun exercise during the dog days of summer. Please check out the breakdown below and share your own observations in the comments section.
ANATOMY OF THE LINEUP
— OFFENSE —
QB Jake Fromm
- As a prospect: 4-star ranking, 44th nationally, 3rd at position
- As a player: Played in all 29 games in his first two seasons, including 28 starts. Georgia is 24-5 in those games. Fromm has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 5,364 yards and 54 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Realistic candidate for all national awards, including Heisman Trophy and All-American.
RB D’Andre Swift
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, No. 23 national ranking and No. 4 at position
- As a player: Swift rushed for 618 yards and 3 touchdowns as an understudy to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. He overcame early injury issues last year to lead the Bulldogs with 1,049 yards and 10 TDs and added another 32 catches and 3 scores as a receiver. If he can stay healthy and be Georgia’s featured back all year as expected, he’ll be a Heisman Trophy contender.
WR J.J. Holloman
- As a prospect: 4-star ranking, 125th nationally, 18th at position
- As a player: Played in 19 of 29 games, including five starts and all 14 games as a sophomore. Was team’s fifth-leading receiver last year (24-418-5 TDs) but enters his junior season considered Georgia’s top wideout.
TE Charlie Woerner
- As a prospect: Signed as a wide receiver. 4-star rating, 138th nationally, No. 25 at position
- As a player: Switched to tight end as a freshman. Played in 32 of 39 games in first three seasons with five starts. Nine catches each of last two seasons with 23 for 271 for his career. Yet to score. Sidelined with broken leg at end of 2017 season. With early departure of Isaac Nauta for NFL, only experienced tight end
LT Andrew Thomas
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, ranking 45th nationally, No. 9 at position
- As a player: Started every game he’s played in his career, all 15 at right tackle as a freshman and all 13 at left tackle as a sophomore. Missed one game last year due to ankle injury from previous contest. Consensus all-conference and All-American.
LG Solomon Kindley
- As a prospect: Signed as offensive tackle. 3-star rating, ranked 1,051st nationally, 89th at his position.
- As a player: After a redshirt year in 2016, Kindley has played in every game the last two seasons, with 21 starts, including every game last season. Played 75 percent of the snaps in SEC play last season.
C Trey Hill
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, ranked No. 63 nationally and third at his position. Signed as guard.
- As a player: Played in all 14 games as a freshman, starting the last four at right guard as injuries sidelined Ben Cleveland and Cade Mays. Also filled in for starting center Lamont Gaillard. Won the center position in spring camp.
RG Ben Cleveland
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, ranked No. 90 nationally and 10th at position. Signed as tackle.
- As a player: After redshirting his first year, Cleveland beat out Kindley for the starting job at right guard for the last four games of the 2017 season, which included an SEC championship and run through the CFB Playoffs. Started the first four games of last season before a broken leg against Missouri sidelined him for the season as an offensive lineman. Won back the starting job over Cade Mays and Jamaree Salyer in spring practice.
RT Isaiah Wilson
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, No. 16 nationally, fifth at position
- As a player: Conditioning and heat acclimation led to first-year redshirt for the Brooklyn native. Earned freshman All-America honors last year after starting every game at right tackle
WR Tyler Simmons
- As a prospect: 3-star rating, ranked 383rd nationally and No. 65 at his position.
- As a player: Simmons earned his place as a special teams player and blocking specialist on offense. He didn’t get his first of six starts as a receiver until his junior season. Now a senior, Simmons has 14 catches for 183 yards and two TDs in his career. But he’s one of the team’s fastest players and the thought is he has more to offer as a receiving target.
WR Demetris Robertson
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, No. 13 nationally, No. 1 at position
- As a player: Robertson earned freshman All-America honors when caught 50 passes for 767 yards and 7 touchdowns at Cal. But he hasn’t been able to replicate that production since transferring to UGA before last season. He played in only nine games as a sophomore and, remarkably, did not record a catch. However, his blazing speed resulted in 109 yards rushing on four carries, including a 72-yard TD in the season opener. Continued improvement on the playbook, sight-adjustments and blocking must be demonstrated to earn more playing time as a junior.
— DEFENSE —
CB Eric Stokes
- As a prospect: 3-star rating, 668th nationally, 63rd at position
- As a player: A track star in high school, Stokes redshirted as a freshman, was pressed into duty due to an injury to Tyson Campbell, then edged Campbell in the battle for playing time opposite of star corner Deandre Baker. One of the fastest players on the team, his DB skills have started to catch up with his speed.
CB Tyson Campbell
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, No. 12 nationally, No. 2 at position
- As a player: Campbell lived up to his lofty billing by starting the first 10 games of his freshman season. But as Baker’s star rose, Campbell found himself increasingly targeted on his side of the field. Loss of confidence and fundamental breakdowns led to Stokes getting three of the last four starts at corner and one for Tyrique McGhee.
FS J.R. Reed
- As a prospect: 3-star rating; 1,856th nationally, No. 157 as cornerback
- As a player: Went to University of Tulsa out of Frisco, Texas, and only played sparingly before transferring to UGA and sitting out per NCAA rules. Quickly blossomed under the tutelage of former DBs coach/coordinator Mel Tucker and has started all 29 games he’s played at Georgia. Now serves as brains and brawn of the secondary.
SS Richard LeCounte
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, 25th nationally, No. 2 at position
- As a player: Arrived somewhat raw in defensive fundamentals but with off-the-charts athleticism. Spent his freshman season as backup to Dominick Sanders, but moved into a starting role last season and started 13 of the 14 games.
LB Monty Rice
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, 334th nationally, 18th at position
- As a player: Rice’s tremendous potential first became evident when he got his first start as a freshman filling in for an injured Roquan Smith. Rice had four tackles against Missouri that day and has been impressing ever since. He started five of nine games last year but has been dogged by injuries, which kept him out of the last four games. Could be a star with a full, healthy season.
LB Tae Crowder
- As a prospect: 3-star rating, ranked 1,868th nationally and 221st at his position (actually wide receiver)
- As a player: Crowder became a prospect at Harris County High as a wide receiver, switched to running back during his senior season and signed with the Bulldogs as a back. However, he never recorded an in-game carry and, after a redshirt season in 2015, was moved to inside linebacker in the middle of the 2016 season. After playing in only one game that season, he has played in 28 of 29 the last two, including five starts last year. Slated to start this year at middle linebacker.
OLB Walter Grant
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, 202nd nationally, No. 11 at position
- As a player: Grant has played in every game for Georgia since he arrived from Cairo High. His work came mainly on special teams as a freshman, but he started 8 games at Sam (strongside) linebacker last year. Unfortunately, Grant mans a position that is proving increasingly obsolete against today’s spread offenses. Got some looks at running back and tight end this spring.
OLB Brenton Cox
- As a prospect: 5-star rating, No. 23 nationally, third at position
- As a player: This is an unresolved competition that just as easily could end up being Adam Anderson, Robert Beal, Azeez Ojulari or Nolan Smith. The interesting aspect is they all share similar recruiting profiles as top-rated, elite prospects. Cox did not distinguish himself when forced into action for an injured D’Andre Walker in the SEC Championship Game. But he has played more and been more productive than others in the competition for playing time.
DE David Marshall
- As a prospect: 3-star rating, 433rd nationally and No. 19 as defensive end
- As a player: The senior Marshall has a lot of experience and playing time, but it has typically been in a specialized role as a run-stopper while sharing time with Jonathan Ledbetter. So his production of 58 tackles in 32 games and just seven starts doesn’t jump off the stat sheet. But Marshall’s absence was evident last season when he missed the last eight games with a broken foot. He was extremely limited in spring practice as well. Again, he’ll be sharing playing time with Malik Herring and Julian Rochester, at the least.
DT Tyler Clark
- As a prospect: 4-star rating, 264th nationally and No. 27 at his position.
- As a player: Everybody is still waiting for the same Clark to emerge who dominated the second half against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl in 2017. He hasn’t been bad and actually has been the best of the Bulldogs’ tackles, but he hasn’t made enough of the impactful “havoc plays” coach Kirby Smart so desires from his defensive front. Clark has played in all but one game since arriving from Americus in 2016 and that includes 22 starts. But several young prospects will be trying to steal playing time, and Clark needs a big year to attract NFL attention.
NG Jordan Davis
- As a prospect: 3-star rating, 424th nationally, No. 29 at position
- As a player: Davis is one of those great stories where he proved much better than his recruiting profile. The 6-foot-6, 330-pounder over game weight and conditioning issues to earn a starting job midway through his freshman season and, after recording 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks, was named a freshman All-American. He will need to continue to demonstrate that sharp rate of progress for the Bulldogs to take another step toward becoming an elite defense.