ATHENS – Georgia’s 2018 recruiting class is currently rated No. 2 in the nation, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings, and could overtake Ohio State for the top spot depending on how things shake out on national signing day on Wednesday. But no matter what happens, this class is going to go down as the Bulldogs’ best recruiting class since …
Well, last year.
That’s right. If you’re searching for some historical perspective on just how good this class is, last year’s – also inked by current head coach Kirby Smart — stands to be the next best going back the last 20 years. That offers some idea of the level at which Georgia’s second-year coach has been recruiting.
Last year’s class finished No. 3, according to the 247 (pronounced 24/7) composite, which averages the national rankings of the four major recruiting sites: 247Sports, Yahoo (Rivals), FoxSports (Scout) and ESPN. Scout had UGA second last year. Alabama was the consensus No. 1, as per usual.
But look at the impact the Bulldogs got out of last year’s class: Quarterback Jake Fromm and tackle Andrew Thomas became every-game starters; tailback D’Andre Swift, outside linebacker Walter Grant, defensive end Malik Herring and linebackers Mate McBride and Monty Rice played in every game; defensive backs Ameer Speed and Richard LeCounte played in 11 and 10 games, respectively, with LeCounte earning one start.
“Last year’s class has a chance to be really good, obviously, with a lot of impact freshmen who played,” said Chad Simmons, regional recruiting analyst for Yahoo Sports. “But without question, this one on paper is going to be the one that jumps out as far as looking the best and reading the best and potentially being the best, as far as all-conference and NFL guys. More than likely it’s going to set a record for us, as far as Rivals, with eight 5-stars.”
That’s assuming that the Bulldogs land Tyson Campbell, a 5-star cornerback out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. Most projections have Campbell signing with Georgia over Alabama on Wednesday.
Individual prospect ratings vary, but Yahoo/Rivals has Georgia already with seven 5-star recruits that signed in the college football’s first early period in late December: Outside linebacker Adam Anderson of Rome, running back James Cook of Miami, defensive end Brenton Cox of Stockbridge, quarterback Justin Fields of Kennesaw, offensive tackle Cade Mays of Knoxville, Tenn., guard Jamaree Salyer of Atlanta and running back Zamir White of Laurinburg, N.C.
Not surprisingly, Yahoo/Rivals already has Georgia sitting at No. 1 in its team rankings. The 247Sports composite has the Bulldogs – currently with 20 signees and two verbal commitments – at No. 2 behind Ohio State. UGA is less than 2 composite points behind the Buckeyes, who have 22 signed and two verbal commitments. The 24/7 breakdown has the Bulldogs with six 5-stars and Ohio State with two. But it has the Buckeyes with 19 4-stars, or seven more than UGA.
But at that point it’s splitting hairs. The Bulldogs are loading up on talent again.
“The funny thing is you were hearing a lot of concerns from (Georgia) fans seven or eight months ago,” Simmons said. “They weren’t picking up the commitments as quickly as the year before. But I think it goes to show that those kids had their eyes on Kirby’s product on the field. Once they saw that performance, those guys playing better football and winning a lot and playing for championships, they believe it can be even better the next couple of years.”
Georgia (13-2) is coming off its first SEC championship in 12 years and finished No. 2 in the national rankings after losing to Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 8.
Now this isn’t to say that Georgia hasn’t recruited at this level before. It has. In fact, the 2006 class, inked by coach Mark Richt in the wake of the Bulldogs’ 2005 SEC championship, also finished third in 247Sports’ composite rankings (though with a slightly lower total score than this one). And looking back at it, one can see why that class was so highly regarded.
Georgia that year inked a pair of 5-stars in quarterback Matthew Stafford of Dallas, Texas, and safety Reshad Jones of Atlanta, each of whom continues their football careers as NFL starters. That class also produced a 4-star tailback from New Jersey named Knowshon Moreno and a 3-star defensive lineman from Florida named Geno Atkins, who just played in his sixth pro bowl. It’s no wonder the Bulldogs would win 21 games from 2007-08 and rise to No. 1 in the national rankings for a brief period.
But Georgia has never recruited at a sustained level is has these last three years under Smart. Including Richt’s last recruiting class in 2015, the Bulldogs are poised to finish among the nation’s top six teams in recruiting for a fourth consecutive season. If Georgia does land its eighth 5-star prospect in Campbell, that’s a record even Alabama hasn’t matched.
“On paper, it looks like it’s going to be the best class Georgia has ever signed,” Simmons said.
Again, Georgia has always recruited well. It’s a byproduct of the state and region the school is in and the emphasis on high school football. Between easy access to the mass population of metro Atlanta and UGA’s strong brand across the South, the Bulldogs can’t help but recruit at a high level.
That’s always been the case. The Bulldogs recruited well in advance of their last national championship and three consecutive SEC championships from 1980-82. And Georgia’s 1990 class was considered one of the best ever, bringing in tailback Garrison Hearst, wide receiver Andre Hastings and a host of top-rated offensive linemen.
Jim Donnan actually signed some great classes, too, including the 1998 group that brought in Boss Bailey, Quincy Carter, Terrence Edwards, George Foster, Jessie Miller, Tim Wansley and Jasper Sanks. There were also several members of his 2000 class that formed the nucleus of the 2002 SEC championship team.
Going back to 2000, when 247Sports began quantifying team composite scores for recruiting, the worst ranking for a Georgia class was No. 23 in 2000, which would be Donnan’s last season. After that, the Bulldogs finished out of the Top 10 only twice, when they were 11th in 2010 and 12th in 2013. Their average national ranking in recruiting in last 18 years is 8.33, not including whatever this year’s class will be ranked.
If Georgia finishes No. 1 this year, that would give Smart’s three recruiting classes an average national ranking of 3.33. So, if there was any question about it, yes, the Bulldogs are recruiting at a higher level than ever at the moment.
What’s the secret?
“It starts at the top,” Simmons said. “Kirby is relentless. For us, he got recruiter of the year numerous years when he was at Alabama. Obviously, Kirby can coach; he’s a great defensive mind and a high-energy guy. But I told people when he got hired, he has great people skills. He can go into a room and he can talk to the prospect, the parents, the family, the cousin, the grandma, the coach. He can make whoever he’s talking to at that time feel like the most important person. And that filters down to his staff.”
It’s all relative, of course. As impressive as Georgia’s work has been under Smart, this is the first year the Bulldogs are actually coming in ahead of Alabama. The Crimson Tide is currently No. 6 in 247Sports’ rankings. But that follows a span in which Bama finished No. 1 every year since 2011. That’s seven consecutive recruiting classes.
Wrap your head around that stat for a minute.
UGA’S RECENT RECRUITING HISTORY
Classes’ composite national ranking since 2000, per 247Sports.com: