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Mecole Hardman was one of the highest rated players in Kirby Smart's first signing class.

Grading how the Georgia football 2016 recruiting class ended up performing

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A look back the 2016 Georgia football recruiting class and re-grade

Kirby Smart did not have much time on his hands. He had just a few weeks to cobble together a recruiting class prior to the start of his head coaching career. There were a few 5-star prospects available, including quarterback Jacob Eason.

That first class had a few high-profile misses — most notably Derrick Brown and Demetris Robertson — but Smart was still able to land the nation’s No. 6 signing class.

Four years later, most of the members of the 22-man class have finished their college careers. Only two members of Smart’s inaugural class will be on the 2020 Georgia team. The rest have either graduated, moved onto the NFL or finished their college careers elsewhere.

Below, we take a look at how each of the 21 signees and one multi-year transfer did in their Georgia careers.

Incompletes

These are the players who did not finish their careers at Georgia. These players include: 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason, 4-star defensive end Chauncey Manac, 4-star linebacker Jaleel Laguins, 4-star cornerback Chad Clay, 3-star offensive lineman Chris Barnes and punter Marshall Long.

Eason was the highest-rated signee in the class, but following the emergence of Jake Fromm in 2017, he elected to finish his college career at Washington. Clay had the shortest stay in Athens, as he was dismissed from the team in June of 2016.

Related: Former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason thanks UGA as he declares for 2020 NFL Draft

C’s get degrees

These are guys who finished their Georgia careers but never really emerged as impact or even key players. Not every prospect is going to be a star at the college level, but a number of these guys were able to fill valuable roles for the Bulldogs.

Michail Carter: Georgia landed Carter on National Signing Day in 2016. He was rated as a 4-star defensive tackle and the No. 122 player in the country. He ended up playing a small part in the defensive line rotation for Georgia as a senior, but he never really shined in his time in Athens. Georgia always rotates a number of defensive linemen making it difficult for some players like Carter to stand out.

In his Georgia career, Carter finished with 15 total tackles. He played in 13 games as a sophomore in 2017, the most in his Georgia career.

Julian Rochester: The defensive tackle is one of just two players still in Athens. He ended up redshirting this past season after suffering an ACL injury in the Sugar Bowl loss to Texas at the end of his junior season.

Rochester has been solid when healthy, as he racked up at least 2.0 sacks in each healthy season at Georgia. But he’s never been spectacular and certainly hasn’t lived up to his status as Georgia’s highest-rated defensive signee, which he was for this cycle.

But Rochester still has time and an opportunity this coming season as the Bulldogs will have to replace five defensive linemen from their 2019 rotation. A big 2020 could help bump up his stock.

David Marshall: Georgia also landed Marshall on National Signing Day in 2016, as the Bulldogs got him to flip his pledge from Auburn to the home-state Bulldogs.

Marshall was a 3-star recruit and the No. 433 player in the 2016 class. He had some promising moments, especially early on in his Georgia career, as he racked up 6.0 tackles for loss in his first two seasons for Georgia. But he was never the same player after suffering a foot injury in his junior season.

His best season at Georgia came in 2016, when he had 2.5 sacks for the Bulldogs. Had he stayed healthy for his entire Georgia career, he likely finishes with a better grade.

Tyrqiue McGhee: McGhee signed with Georgia out of Peach County High School in the 2016 class and proved to be a valuable piece for Georgia’s secondary. He was the lowest-rated defensive signee in the class as the nation’s No. 635 player, but he had a better college career than that.

He started nine games in his Georgia career and his most memorable play was likely an interception against Florida in 2018. He also played a key role at cornerback for Georgia when the Bulldogs were shorthanded against Notre Dame this past season. McGhee did miss four games in his senior season due to an injury.

Charlie Woerner: He never put up big numbers for Georgia but he was long a key player for the Bulldogs at tight end. If blocking were as celebrated as pass-catching, Woerner would definitely land in the B category.

But in none of his years at Georgia was he the leading receiver at the tight end position. He did not catch his first touchdown pass until his final regular-season game against Georgia Tech.

Still, Woerner is one of the more beloved Georgia players of the Smart era, given his approach to the game. He was also a valued leader for the Bulldogs in his time in Athens.

Tyler Simmons: Simmons was a blown call away from being a B. We’re referencing the infamous blocked punt that was called off in the 2018 National Championship Game against Alabama. This naturally spawned millions of “Tyler Simmons was onsides” memes.

Eventually, Simmons worked was his way from special teams standout to starter at wide receiver for his senior season. His last year proved to be his best, as he finished with 21 catches for 255 receiving yards.

Related: Retiring referee admits they blew Tyler Simmons call in national championship game

B good but not great

Brian Herrien: Herrien was a late signee in the 2016 class, but he made the earliest impact as he scored a touchdown in his first career game against North Carolina in 2016.

Given the talent in Georgia’s backfield, Herrien never became a featured back. But he always seemed to make the most of his limited opportunities and proved to be a nice compliment to D’Andre Swift as a senior.

He finished with at least 250 yards in each of his college seasons and had he played against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, likely would’ve topped the 500-yard mark. Herrien was the lowest-rated skill player at Georgia in the class, but it’s hard to argue that he didn’t get the most out of his Georgia career.

Riley Ridley: If Ridley played every game like he did against Alabama, he’d probably be in the A category. In his two games against the Crimson Tide, he combined for 11 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. His best skill was his ability to get open against elite competition. He also had a huge touchdown catch against Tennessee as a freshman, which has largely been forgotten to time due to the ending of that game.

In his junior season, Ridley ended up leading the Bulldogs in catches, yards and touchdowns. His early departure for the NFL draft certainly hurt Georgia’s passing offense in 2019.

Prior to the first Alabama game, Ridley had just 20 catches in his college career. He had 50 over the next 15 games for Georgia. If the beginning of his career was a little bit better, he’d have a case for being in the A category.

Javon Wims: Wims didn’t spend as much time in Athens as his fellow 2017 signees as he was a JUCO prospect. But he made the most of his two seasons in Athens.

Wims ended up being the leading receiver on Georgia’s 2017 team that ended up playing for the national championship game. He caught 45 passes that season for 720 yards and seven touchdowns for Georgia.

He also had a key touchdown in the win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

Ben Cleveland: In addition to Rochester, Cleveland is the only other member of Georgia’s 2016 class still on campus. Cleveland was the first player to stick with his pledge to Georgia once Smart took over.

He redshirted his freshman season and didn’t really begin to contribute until after the loss to Auburn in 2017. After that game, he was inserted into the starting lineup and helped make a difference in the SEC championship game and Rose Bowl.

An injury cost him most of 2018 and he spent much of 2019 rotating with Cade Mays at the right guard spot. But following significant attrition on the offensive line, Cleveland figures to be a key player for the Georgia offensive line in 2020. And a strong final season could help his standing.

RelatedBen Cleveland: He’s following through on a plan to return to UGA in 2020

Isaac Nauta: The 5-star tight end prospect was one of the big wins at the start of Smart’s Georgia tenue. And he had a strong freshman season, where he caught 29 passes for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns.

His sophomore season saw him take a big step back, as he finished with only nine catches for 114 yards. But a bounce-back year as a junior saw him live up to that lofty ranking. He decided to head to the NFL instead of returning for a senior season. The Bulldogs likely wish he would’ve returned, especially given his strong game in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.

Had Nauta played better in his sophomore year — where he was catching passes from freshman Jake Fromm — maybe he is in the A category.

Elijah Holyfield: Holyifled may not have had the consistency that Herrien did over his Georgia career. But the other 2016 running back signee also never had a year as strong as Holyfield did in  2018.

Holyfield took full advantage of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel’s departures, as he rushed for a career-best 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Swift helped power the Georgia rushing attack and really make-up for the loss of two of the best Georgia running backs in program history.

After a strong junior campaign, Holyfield elected to head to the NFL. Some would’ve liked to see him return to Georgia for his senior season, but you can’t argue that he was a successful player during his time in Athens.

Top of the class:

Solomon Kindley: Despite Cleveland taking his starting spot during the 2017 season, Kindley rebounded and had stronger performances in 2018 and 2019. There was no rotating at the left guard spot on the Georgia offensive line, as Kindley only missed snaps due to injury.

Kindley was the lowest-rated offensive player in the class, as he did not even have a ranking in the 247Sports Composite. But thanks to his hard work and some assistance from offensive line coach Sam Pittman, he ended up starting plenty of games over his final three seasons in Athens.

Kindley actually had another year of eligibility, but he elected to enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tyler Clark: Of the four defensive linemen Georgia signed in this class, Clark easily went on to have the best career.

Clark really began to make a name for himself in the Rose Bowl, as he finished with five tackles and sack in Georgia’s double-overtime win over the Sooners. He admittedly didn’t have the season he wanted to as a junior, as he went from 6.0 tackles for loss to 4.0.

But he had his best year as a senior and emerged as a disruptive playmaker for the Bulldogs. His 8.0 tackles for loss led the team and were the second-most by any defensive lineman since Smart became the head coach.

Clark played a big role in Georgia having one of the toughest defensive lines in the country as the Bulldogs gave just two rushing touchdowns all season.

Mecole Hardman:  Hardman committed to Georgia on National Signing Day and went on to live up to his 5-star status.

He spent most of his freshman season as a defensive back but when he made the switch to wide receiver, things really clicked.  He caught 25 passes for 418 yards as a sophomore, with the highlight being his 80-yard touchdown catch against Alabama.

As a junior, he improved upon his numbers as he finished with 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns. He also became one of the best punt returners in the country, as he averaged 20 yards per return in his final season in Athens.

Related: Why Mecole Hardman winning a Super Bowl helps the future of Georgia football

Hardman went on to become a second-round pick for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 NFL Draft. He made countless big plays as a rookie and ended up winning a Super Bowl. Not a bad stretch for a player who entered Georgia having played mostly as a quarterback in high school.

J.R. Reed: Reed technically did not sign with Georgia’s 2016 class, as he arrived that summer as a transfer. He ended being the best player Smart brought in prior to coaching in his first game as Georgia’s head coach.

After sitting out the 2016 season, Reed went on to start every game over the next three seasons. He made countless big plays as he became one of the best safeties in the country. He was a Jim Thrope Award Finalist and First Team All-American as a senior for the Bulldogs.

Reed came to Georgia as a transfer from Tulsa with very little fanfare. He left as a Georgia legend and one of the best players to play for Smart in his first four seasons.

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