Kirby Smart clearly knows what he is looking for when it comes to recruiting. The Bulldogs routinely bring in the best players in the country, with Georgia signing a top 4 class under Smart in each of the last seven recruiting cycles.

But NIL has muddied the recruiting waters. With athletes now being able to earn money off their likeness, it has shifted priorities in recruiting.

Smart still believes NIL is “a great thing” for athletes. But it has also forced Smart to put a greater emphasis on the players who are at first willing to put aside some money in order to pursue something greater.

“I certainly think it’s put a premium on all players that don’t require all the NIL,” Smart said while appearing on the Paul Finebaum show on Tuesday. “Meaning a kid that says I want to come to your university because I want to win a championship. There’s a value in that. I want to come because you’re going to give a great education, you’re going to develop me into an NFL player. Not just because of NIL.

“It has given kids an opportunity to put some money away and get financial advice. But it’s not good when they’re choosing why they go to school.”

Georgia signed the No. 2 overall signing class in the 2023 recruiting cycle and currently has the No 1 ranked recruiting class in the 2024 cycle. Winning back-to-back national championships has helped the recruiting pitch that Smart can make to prospective recruits. Most of those 2023 signees went through spring practice, as 18 members of the class participated. The rest of the class will begin arriving in Athens this week.

The Bulldogs got significant contributions from freshmen Mykel Williams and Malaki Starks last season. They clearly bought into Georgia’s culture and were able to make an instant impact at Georgia. That should set them up for bigger NIL deals down the line, as has been the case for star tight end Brock Bowers.

NIL isn’t exactly new at this point, as members of the 2022 and 2023 signing classes were afforded those opportunities coming out of high school. In fact, Georgia is the only school to have won a national championship since NIL has been allowed in college football.

Still, Smart wonders what kind of impact NIL would’ve had on the 2021 national championship team, as those players were largely developed in a pre-NIL landscape.

Smart speaks passionately about the culture that has been built at Georgia. There’s no denying that the Bulldogs have been able to find success whereas others have struggled.

But he’s not naive to the fact that NIL will play a big part in future generations when it comes to recruiting and team building. The Georgia head coach is going to have to continue to adapt in order to keep up with the times

“I don’t know if the success we had in the 2021 season, those kids had all worked really hard without NIL,” Smart said. “The Jordan Davis’, Nakobe Dean’s, James Cook’s. They came without that and they worked and achieved and got better. I don’t know if we’re going to see that same growth, that same hunger. Because some of these kids are coming into a situation where they think they’ve already made it and they’re getting passed by by somebody hungrier than them. I don’t know.”

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