One of Georgia’s best players on its National Championship team was freshman Brock Bowers. The standout tight end led the team in every major receiving category and hauled in a school-record 13 touchdown passes.
Georgia freshman Adonai Mitchell also played a huge role for the Bulldogs, with his 40-yard touchdown in the win over Alabama as evidence. While Bowers was the No. 105 prospect in the 2021 recruiting cycle, Mitchell arrived with far less fan-fare as the No. 387 overall prospect.
Related: Brock Bowers named Freshman of the Year by FWAA
Point being, even elite programs such as Georgia need contributions from freshmen. That will be the case once again in 2022, especially with all Georgia is set to lose via the NFL draft and transfer portal.
The Bulldogs though do have plenty of options as far as impact freshmen, with Georgia currently having the No. 3 ranked recruiting class for the 2022 cycle. And Georgia’s top-ranked signee in the class is ESPN’s prediction for which player will make an instant impact on the 2022 season.
That player would be Malaki Starks.
“The Dawgs’ biggest need will be along the defensive line, but the entire defense is losing quite a bit of production, and Starks might be able to help in the secondary right away if he can catch on early and play multiple positions,” ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren wrote.
Starks is the No. 14 overall player in the country and the No. 2 player from the state of Georgia. The Jefferson, Ga., standout picked Georgia over offers from Clemson and Alabama.
While having the athleticism to play multiple positions, Starks will likely begin his career at Georgia by playing in the secondary. Georgia will see safety Lewis Cine depart for the NFL, but the Bulldogs get back super seniors Chris Smith and William Poole. West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith will also return for another season, adding further depth to Georgia’s secondary.
“I think Malaki has a bright future. He’s fast,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said back during the early signing period. “Number one, he’s very intelligent. He’s high-character and you’re going to hear me repeat that over and over because that matters way more than what reputation they’re coming in with.”
Related: What to make of UGA commits Malaki Starks and Gunner Stockton in their first game
Starks is one of five 5-star prospects Georgia signed in the 2022 recruiting cycle, with all five coming on the defensive side of the ball. The return of the Smiths and Poole might make it more difficult to see Starks breakthrough right away, but he did enroll early and should at the very least become a key special teams player for Georgia.
Other 2022 signees to watch for include Mykel Williams, Daylen Everette and Jalon Walker on the defensive side of the ball. All three enrolled early, with Williams perhaps having the best path to playing time given Travon Walker’s departure for the NFL. Everette will compete to start opposite Kelee Ringo, while Jalon Walker will look to replace what Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall brought as inside linebackers.
Offensively, a name to know is Oscar Delp. He does play the same tight end position as Bowers but Delp’s 6-foot-5 frame and athleticism should allow him to help out as a pass-catcher, much like Bowers did a season ago. Running back Branson Robinson could be a name worth tracking as well, but he does not arrive in Athens until the summer.
Georgia is expected to begin the 2022 season in the top-5, as it is coming off a championship season. The defense as mentioned must replace a lot of production, but Georgia does see a number of key faces return on the offensive side of the ball.