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Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge were two of the top offensive tackle prospects in the country.

Recent history shows it’s more likely Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge redshirt than start

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Why it might not be wise to expect Georgia football to start Broderick Jones and Tate Ratledge

When Kirby Smart was asked about Broderick Jones and the importance of landing the 5-star offensive tackle, he made it very clear how he felt.

“Well it was a lot more important a year ago to sign Xavier Truss,” Smart said. “It was a lot more important a year ago to sign Warren McClendon because when you have Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, you understand that there’s an opportunity for these guys to leave.”

“I’m not a big believer that the next guy is just going to walk in and play for Andrew Thomas and Isaiah.”

Jones was a 5-star prospect and the No. 2 overall ranked offensive tackle in the class. The Bulldogs also landed Tate Ratledge, the No. 3 ranked offensive tackle in the country. Both prospects are top-60 prospects in the 247Sports Composite ranking.

Related: Kirby Smart talks competition on Georgia football O-Line, Broderick Jones, Xavier Truss

But just because Georgia brought in two highly rated offensive tackle prospects doesn’t mean Jones and Ratledge will replace Thomas and Wilson, who were both multi-year starters for the Bulldogs.

Smart alluded to the history of freshman offensive tackles in trying to downplay the hype surrounding both Jones and Ratledge.

“It’d be foolish of me to sit here and think that two of these tackles we just signed are going to walk in here and play,” Smart said. “Based on the history of the SEC, you do the study on how many freshmen offensive tackles have played?

“That’s tough to find. It’s hard to do.”

The uninformed might be quick to point out that Thomas started every game as a freshman. He did in fact start all 15 games at right tackle for Georgia as it went to the national championship game that year.

But in the past five seasons, Thomas is one of just five players in all of the college football who were ranked among the top-60 prospects in the 247Sports Composite rankings to start every game, when healthy, at either tackle as position as a freshman.

In the SEC, only Thomas, Jonah Williams of Alabama and Wanya Morris of Tennessee have been able to do such a thing. The other two are Mitch Hyatt of Clemon and Penei Sewell of Oregon. Sewell though missed six games due to injury, while Morris missed one.

By comparison, 19 of the 48 offensive linemen who fit in that data range redshirted in their first season on campus.

One of those was Wilson, even though he was a higher-ranked prospect than Thomas was in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

Starting even double-digit games as a freshman is a tall task. Of the 48 prospects who fit the qualifications, only eight have gone on to start in at least 10 games. But seven of those eight did so while playing in the SEC.

*All of college football

Top 60 OL prospects from 2015-19 48
Started every game when healthy at tackle 5
Double-digit starts at any position 8
Started multiple games at tackle 10
Redshirted 19
Started at least one game at any position 20

While only three players SEC players started every game at tackle while healthy, another three started multiple games at the tackle position as Greg Little, Trey Smith and Darnell Wright did so in their first years at Ole Miss and Tennessee.

*SEC

Top 60 OL prospects from 2015-19 22
Started every game when healthy at tackle 3
Double-digit starts at any position 7
Started multiple games at tackle 6
Redshirted 6
Started at least one game at any position 13

Georgia saw first hand this year the type of effects injuries can have on a line, as only Thomas and Trey Hill started every game.

“If they’re athletic and they’re the best guys or we have injuries, those guys will provide us great depth,” Smart said. “I certainly think a lot of these guys we just signed are talented enough to come in and help us but they’re not mid-year guys and they’ll have to come in and compete for it.”

Georgia does have options in addition to the previously mentioned Truss and McClendon, who both redshirted this past year. Jamaree Salyer, a top-60 prospect who did not start a single game in his first year in Athens, did start at right tackle in the Sugar Bowl and played well in his debut at the position. There’s also Owen Condon as well, who spent much of the past year battling injury.

Jones and Ratledge also have quite a few obstacles to overcome in becoming starters. Jones only weighs 285 pounds at the moment, largely because he currently stars for his high school basketball team. Ratledge meanwhile played at the lowest level of high school football in Georgia and there will be a significant gap in talent between the Alabama defensive line and the one for Fellowship Chrisitan trouted out last year.

As Smart mentioned, neither Jones nor Ratledge enrolled early at Georgia. Of the three SEC players who started every game at tackle as a freshman, Thomas was the only one who was not an early enrollee. Hyatt also enrolled early, while Sewell was a summer enrollee. But Sewell also got a Heisman Trophy vote so expecting one of Jones or Ratledge to be like him is a bit much.

Of the 48 players who fit the criteria, Thomas is the only one who was not an early enrollee to start every game for his team as a freshman. That is an accomplishment Jones and Ratledge will try and replicate.

For all the chatter about Jones walking straight into a starting spot on the Georgia offensive line, he doesn’t see it as his god-given right to be the next star tackle for the Bulldogs.

“I know the playing time is going to come down to me. It’s not about the school,” Jones said at the Under Armour All-American Game. “Either way I know have to go in and work, learn the playbook, hit the weight room, work on my skillset.

“Hopefully, I won’t have to redshirt and can start my freshman year.”

The recent history does support Smart’s statement about how unlikely it is that a true freshman will be in the starting lineup when the Bulldogs open the 2020 season against Virginia. It’s becoming more and more clear how special of a player Thomas was, and perhaps shows the difficulty Georgia will have in replacing him.

It could be Jones or Ratledge. Of the offensive tackle prospects that Smart has signed as head coach, the Lithonia, Ga. product is the highest rated one Smart landed. But as was the case with Wilson, there’s a more likely chance that he ends up redshirting than starting at all for Georgia in 2020.

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