ATHENS — A quick test for you today.
Do you recall the following names: Soso Jamabo? B.J. Emmons? Cam Akers? Lorenzo Lingard?
If you do, congratulations. You’re officially a “recruitnik.” For the other 98 percent of our readership who follow only Georgia recruiting and/or pay attention only when they start playing for the Bulldogs, the four aforementioned individuals were 5-star prospects who were ranked among the top two at their position the last five years coming out of high school per the 247Sports.com.
Of them, only Akers gained a 1,000 yards rushing his freshman season at Florida State in 2017. He had 1,025 yards and scored six touchdowns that year. Last year, he had 706.
The rest of them?
- Jamabo, who signed with UCLA in 2015, had 1,183 yards — in his career. He had 404 as a freshman. (Saquon Barkley was ranked 13th among backs in that class, by the way).
- Emmons had 173 yards his freshman season at Alabama. At last check, he “took the fall off” this past season after a year at Hutchinson Community College.
- Lingard signed with the Miami Hurricanes last year. He had 136 yards and scored two touchdowns.
I share that today because I feel compelled to slow the roll a bit on what I’m hearing and reading about Georgia’s Zamir White. White was, of course, the No. 1 running back and No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2018. But he didn’t play last year because he tore an ACL covering a punt in the Bulldogs’ preseason camp.
As most any Georgia fan can tell you, that was White’s second ACL tear. He tore the one in his other knee in the last game of senior season at Scotland County High School, or eight months before the next one.
Yet everywhere I turn, I read about how White is a player to watch for the Bulldogs this season. The 6-foot, 210-pound running back is going to be a “breakout player” and a potential freshman All-American.
I agree that White is a player to watch, just for different reasons.
I’m just hoping the kid plays at all this season. I mean, I feel confident that he will. That’s based on his current timeline and my experience watching players recover from knee injuries over the years. And, believe me, I’ve seen a LOT of players recover from a LOT of knee injuries over the years.
Based on that, I’d say White will be on the field with the Bulldogs for drills and play work during spring practice, but while being held out of contact and all scrimmage situations. Generally, it’s a full year before a back is cleared for full go and for White that’d be August. My guess is he’ll be given the green light to open preseason camp.
What happens after that is the big question.
We don’t have to go back any farther than 2014 with Todd Gurley for evidence that backs can recover well from knee injuries. Gurley tore an ACL against Auburn late in his junior season with the Bulldogs, then managed to get drafted in the first round by the Rams and earn NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015. But, it bears mentioning, as he prepares to represent Los Angeles in the Super Bowl in Atlanta in a couple weeks, Gurley is still dealing with knee issues. So is New England’s Sony Michel, who you also might’ve heard of.
Knee and ankle injuries are just a part of playing the running back position, just like they are for wide receivers and soccer players or attackmen in lacrosse. Any athlete who is required to run fast and cut hard is going to be susceptible to them.
Meanwhile, there is evidence both ways as far as how well football players recover from knee injuries. Adrian Peterson and Willis McGahee are probably the most famous backs to have suffered major knee injuries yet continued with productive careers. Quarterback Tom Brady, lest we forget, had one and seems to have done all right. And, of course, former Bulldog Thomas Davis has had three ACL tears, including one in a different knee, yet has continued to flourish as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers.
In reality, though, those players represent outliers. According to a 2017 article by Guardian.com, 20 percent of running backs never return to the game, and a significant number of those that do show a decline in performance and production. According to a study by the Sage Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, NFL running backs who suffer knee injuries earn $2 million less than their peers over the next four years.
But here’s the thing about White: We don’t know what he can do in college. That’s what differentiates him from the examples of Gurley and Nick Chubb. By the time they went down with their knee injuries, they’d already proven themselves to be elite backs on the major college level.
White hasn’t had a chance to do that. I don’t care what his high school highlights and stats show, North Carolina prep ball is not an accurate predictor of success. And what I have seen of White hasn’t been convincing either. Reporters were fortunate enough to get a few glimpses of him in action in practices and scrimmages before he went down last August and, quite frankly, James Cook stood out significantly more during that small sampling than did White.
None of this is meant to cast shade on White. He may indeed fall in line perfectly with all the great backs that have come through RBU over the years. I sincerely hope he’s everything on the college level that Georgia fans hope that he is.
What this correspondence is meant to do is just temper those expectations a bit and offer a dose of reality. And the reality is White needs all the time he can possibly get to heal up physically and mentally. There are ample studies that say it takes two years for elite athletes to fully recover from a psychological and confidence standpoint. We probably witnessed that with Chubb, who went from averaging 8.1 yards a carry as a sophomore to 5.0 as a junior. And then he was back to his old self as a senior.
There’s certainly no reason to rush White. Georgia has some concerns on its depth chart for the 2019 season but running back is not one of them. I’d put the Bulldogs’ rotation of D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Kenny McIntosh up there with any in the SEC. Add to that formula the offensive line they should be running behind and the quarterback making the reads at the line of scrimmage, and I’d say Georgia is poised to run the football as well as it always does.
That’s whether or not the guy they call “Zeus” is part of the rotation. Here’s hoping he is but, nicknames aside, let’s not make out the guy to be a god just yet.