While at first glance this post might seem like a simple memory jog with all of Georgia’s signees set to report to campus on Wednesday, this isn’t just a rehash of the instant recaps that were published back in February.
That’s when the recruitment of five-star Demetris Robertson was still all over the place and the name Brian Herrien wasn’t known. Tyler Catalina, the big graduate transfer offensive tackle, wasn’t even on the board yet.
That’s enough reason to give a final look at what to expect from all the new faces on campus next week.
The class essentially must be graded on a curve. The best work Kirby Smart and his first staff did for 2016 was in retention. Sure, they flipped guys from Alabama and Auburn, but the heavy lifting made sure strong leans and solid commits did not stray.
The timing was awful. Smart wasn’t hired until the first week of December. He wasn’t fully discharged from his duties coordinating the Alabama defense to another championship until Jan. 11. The staff was hired amidst all that. That said, the Bulldogs still finished up seventh in the nation and fourth in the SEC in the final 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings for 2017.
Stars of the Class
Georgia matched Alabama and Ole Miss for the national lead (3) in five-star signees. That’s a coup given the fact that there are only 32 five-stars named each year to the 247Sports Composite, and a 15-year head coach was fired in December.
The household name is five-star quarterback Jacob Eason. When Smart was hired, his first move was to see Eason on a cross-country flight. When Georgia nailed down quarterback sherpa Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator and then paired him with a pocket passer’s best friend in offensive line coach Sam Pittman, the Easons were re-sold.
Eason (Lake Stevens, Wash.) re-committed after a late flirtation with Florida. That was Smart’s first major UGA win on the trail. The 6-foot-6 senior was rated No. 2 in the nation among pro-style passers and as the No. 5 prospect overall. He had an eye-opening spring game, which sets him up to challenge for the starting job this fall.
Isaac Nauta (IMG Academy / Bradenton, Fla.) was a rare five-star tight end that UGA also retained during the crossover from Mark Richt’s staff. He was rated No. 1 overall at his position and joined Eason in enrolling early in January. Nauta, who showed his skills in every facet of the position at G-Day, was rated No. 12 overall nationally. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told the Nauta family he could see Nauta picked high in the first round of an NFL draft one day. That’s a good ceiling for what the Dacula native can do with his time in Athens.
Mecole Hardman., Jr. (Elbert County/ Elberton, Ga.) was the final five-star signee and even he was tricky. He was a longtime silent lean to UGA, but his interest was secured by outgoing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder instantly becomes one of the fastest men in the SEC and can help with a few snaps each game at receiver due to his immense playmaking ability.
That will tease some folks as his long-term future is at cornerback and in the return game. It won’t be long before DawgNation is on the edge of their seats every time he touches the ball.
Three who should play right away
- WR Javon Wims (Hinds Community College, Raymond, Miss.) — The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder rips off 4.4s in the 40-yard dash and has to play right away. With all the talk on the quarterbacks in fall camp, they will need a viable big-play option with a huge catch radius to help them out. Simply put, there’s not another receiver at UGA with the size and skills Wims has.
- OT Tyler Catalina (University of Rhode Island / Native of Worcester, Mass. ) — He will be the “grown man” out of all the big bodies on the UGA roster when he arrives. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder is a fifth-year graduate transfer from Rhode Island. The 23-year-old should claim the right tackle job. At least. The expectation is that he’s coming in to be the blind side protector at left tackle. Graduate transfers with multiple SEC options do not make a move like this one to provide reserve depth. His frame is also more in tune with Pittman’s vision of the trenches at UGA.
- P Marshall Long (South Rowan High School/ China Grove, NC) — Long is a rare scholarship punter and a U.S. Army All-American one at that. UGA quarterback Brice Ramsey has looked well booming kicks of late, but scholarship punters are not brought in to redshirt.
Three more who better be ready
This one is easy to pick, but hard to separate because the same thinking applies to the defensive tackle signees. It starts with Julian Rochester (McEachern High School / Powder Springs, Ga.) since he got on campus early in January and has now had almost six months to shape his body into what an SEC interior defender looks like. Yet he did have that BB-gun incident. That opens the door for four-stars Michail Carter (Jackson High School / Jackson, Ga.) and Tyler Clark (Americus-Sumter High School / Americus, Ga.) to also earn early reps. The sooner the new Georgia defensive line can throw two or three waves of quality big bodies at opposing SEC lines, the better.
Don’t forget about …
Ben Cleveland, another sizable four-star early enrollee, clearly fits that bill for the size Pittman wants on his lines. Cleveland (Stephens County / Toccoa, Ga. ) is settled in at guard for now, but he’s right at 6-foot-7 and ranging around 340 pounds with scant body fat.
He was rated the nation’s No. 9 offensive tackle, No. 91 overall prospect and a Parade All-American. He’ll likely bench press close to 500 pounds along his UGA career.
Three Big Surprises
The two flips drew big cheers on National Signing Day. Auburn three-star pledge David Marshall (Upson-Lee High School / Thomaston, Ga.) flipped but that was expected as he took two late back-to-back weekend visits to UGA. He’s rated as an outside linebacker, but expect to see him with his hand on the ground as he keeps adding size and strength.
The flip of Tyler Simmons (McEachern High School / Powder Springs, Ga.) from Alabama was a more impressive feat. The Tide needed more receivers this year. Smart had been his primary recruiter at Alabama and that paid off. In the end, the family felt more comfortable at UGA. It was a big boost for a program that needs his size and speed (10.60 in the 100 meters) at receiver.
Wideout Riley Ridley (Deerfield Beach / Deerfield Beach, Fla. ) was the most out-of-the-blue signee. The brother of Alabama star Calvin Ridley was set to enroll early and committed to South Carolina at the Under Armour All-American game. There were only two hats on his table, but then new UGA receivers coach James Coley got involved. Ridley quickly de-committed, took a visit to Athens during the week of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and basically never left.
Archer High School (Lawrenceville, Ga.) four-star offensive tackle E.J. Price and Lanier High (Sugar Hill, Ga.) five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown were hopeful additions that never materialized. Price went to Southern Cal even after admitting a strong bond with Pittman, and even said he’d have gone to Georgia if Mark Richt was still there.
Brown wound up going to Auburn and told reporters it was his likely choice all along. Those two guys were tough losses on Signing Day, but five-star receiver Demetris Robertson’s choice to go to Cal over UGA had everyone stunned. The Savannah Christian speedster was rated as the nation’s top receiver.
He could’ve been the fourth five-star recruit in the UGA class, but instead wanted to take his talents out West. Add them all up and their decisions to leave the state speak to the biggest weakness of the 2016 class. UGA only signed two (three counting Nauta coming back from boarding schools in Florida) of the state’s Top 10 prospects this year.
Brian Herrien (New Manchester High School / Douglasville, Ga.) looks like the last addition to the class. The now three-star RB qualified late. but had a connection with Smart. When he rallied with grades and raised his ACT score, he was eligible to sign with UGA.
That was a big need given the uncertain status this fall for All-American running back candidate Nick Chubb after he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee.
There were misses (Brown, Price, Robertson) but overall this class was put together just about as well as expected given the coaching turnover. Smart made it clear back in February that this class did not fill the need at offensive tackle.
There are now two running backs who will be on campus to offset the expected NFL exodus of Chubb and Sony Michel. That’s an important point to close with given that the name of a quality four-star back like Elijah Holyfield (Woodward Academy / Atlanta, Ga. ) finally comes up at this point of an overview. Look for him to get 100 carries this fall to spell Chubb and Michel.
Eason and those five-star guys draw the most attention, but the overall impact of this class will be determined by how well under-the-radar guys like Holyfield, outside linebacker Chauncey Manac (Clinch County High School / Homerville, Ga.) and tight end Charlie Woerner (Rabun County High School, Tiger, Ga.) perform over the next few years.
Manac and Woerner don’t seek out the spotlight or flock to the prospect camps, but the chances of seeing their names called in an NFL Draft are as high as anyone mentioned so far outside of maybe Eason and Nauta.
Those two four-star recruits already possess ideal size and athleticism plus they can also play multiple positions, too.