JT Daniels-Georgia football-ESPN-sample
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ESPN makes case for why JT Daniels can outperform limited sample size

At this point of talking season, you can pretty much find any opinion you want on a top player or program. Good or bad, all the takes have been unloaded at this point.

Take for instance Georgia quarterback JT Daniels. Some see him as a Heisman Trophy front-runner and someone who could go on to become the next Joe Burrow or Mac Jones.

Related: JT Daniels, Matt Corral and the Californication of SEC quarterback play

Others are wary of the competition Daniels played to end the 2020 season — Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri all had pass defenses rank outside the top-80. Then Daniels didn’t exactly star in Georgia’s win over Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. The Bearcats had the No. 4 defense in terms of yards per play and were able to harass Daniels into an uneven performance.

ESPN’s Bill Connelly perhaps perfectly highlights the split opinions on Daniels at the moment while previewing the SEC East as a whole. Daniels is a big reason why the Bulldogs are expected to win the division this year.

But if Georgia is going to accomplish its loftier goals, it will need a better version of Daniels than what it saw against the Bearcats.

“Daniels’ torched three sketchy defenses but made mistakes against an awesome Cincinnati defense; he lost go-to receiver George Pickens to a spring knee injury, too,” Connelly wrote.

Connelly then gave an even lengthy explanation as to why Daniels has the opportunity to show that the numbers Daniels posted in 2020 were not a fluke but rather a sign of what is to come.

On the other hand, (A) Daniels’ excellent Total QBR was opponent-adjusted, and (B) he will still have Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton and Dominick Blaylock (injured in 2020) at his disposal, plus two sophomore TEs (Darnell Washington and LSU transfer Arik Gilbert) with otherworldly potential,” Connelly wrote. “Add in one of the best RB rooms in the country (led by Zamir White), and you’ve got a ridiculously high ceiling.

“Now they’ve just got to show it for more than four games.”

Daniels’ Total QBR, was 89.1 which would’ve put him fourth in the country if it were expanded over the entire 2020 season. The offense also averaged 486 yards of offense per game in the four starts by Daniels. That would’ve been good of eighth among Power 5 teams last season.

Georgia also gets the benefit of having a more normal offseason. Georgia isn’t having to break in a new offense this year as Todd Monken also returns. The Bulldogs also benefited from the 15 spring practices they held, even if Pickens got hurt in one of them.

At SEC media days, Daniels seemed very aware of the perception surrounding both him and the Georgia offense.

It didn’t seem to bother or burden him all that much.

“The preseason rankings are what they are,” Daniels said. “We don’t have any say over them. It’s cool when they say you’re good. It’s cool when they say you suck.

“It really doesn’t matter either way. You go out and play football.”

Related: JT Daniels comfortable with championship expectations for Georgia football

Even as some in the national media continue to question the upside of Daniels and the Georgia offense, the Bulldogs should be one of the top-ranked teams in the country entering the 2021 season. Connelly’s SP+ metrics have Georgia as the No. 6 team in the country, and that might even seem low.

The Bulldogs and Daniels will face a stern test to start the season as they take on the Clemson Tigers. Like Georgia, Dabo Swinney’s team should be ranked in the top-10 to start the season.

If Georgia and Daniels are able to play well in that game, there’s a pretty strong chance all the hemming and hawing about Daniels’ sample size stops.

“It’s a huge game. It’s Clemson-Georgia, it’s two really good teams,” Daniels said. B”ut I think the biggest thing for us as a team, as much as we get hyped for it, because it’s Georgia-Clemson, it’s a Week 1 game.