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Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
Kirby Smart's deepest roster yet could have been even deeper in 2019.

Georgia football: Despite several lost pieces, this is still Kirby Smart’s deepest team

While covering the Bulldogs this weekend, a few timelines came full circle. It led to this: This Georgia football team is the deepest of the Kirby Smart era.

The Bulldogs did look “Bama Built” on the hoof Saturday night in Nashville. The depth mirrored the amount of red and black fans in the stands.

DawgNation wasn’t the only ones watching either.

There were scouts from the Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, just to name a few.

Those guys who lookout for the future of the NFL’s shield weren’t only there to see Vanderbilt three ALL-SEC candidates, either.

Georgia has the guys. Everywhere.

Pick a position group. It is getting harder and harder to determine which one has the most Sunday players. The shortlist for that debate now includes the offensive line, outside linebackers, running backs and the secondary.

The Bulldogs even have a kicker good enough to be scoring fantasy points on Sundays right now, too.

Yet with that, the synergy of covering the team on gamedays and the recruiting trail sparked up again.

Georgia’s football team is Mariana Trench-level deep. That’s in spite of missing a vast number of expected key cogs which are either no longer with the program or still waiting for their time.

It says something about the player development pipeline in Athens. This program might have caved in on itself by now if it was just built on top of all of those recruiting stars.

Georgia football-UGA football
It only looked like Georgia had this many agile and hostile players out on the field Saturday night against Vanderbilt. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Georgia football: What it has and what never came to be 

Let’s flashback to December 25, 2017.  That was after Georgia just signed the bulk of the nation’s top-rated recruiting class for 2018 during the first early period. It followed an effort where the Bulldogs signed the third-best class in America with the 2017 class.

If you quizzed me that day about the Bulldogs I felt would be vital for the team when it opened up the 2019 season, this list would have made a lot of sense:

  • DeAngelo Gibbs would have at least been a starter in Athens.
  • Brenton Cox would have been coming into his own during his sophomore season. 
  • Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman would be set to emerge as one of the SEC’s best receivers.
  • Mecole Hardman would’ve been one of the three fastest players in college football.
  • Julian Rochester would’ve been on a few preseason ALL-SEC teams. That is if he was still around for his senior year. 
  • See Isaac Nauta. That same line for Rochester would apply there, too. 
  • Netori Johnson and Nate McBride would have been key starters by now. Robert Beal would have been a situational pass-rush specialist, if not a lot more than that. 
  • Luke Ford and Jamaree Salyer were safe bets for the UGA two-deep for the SEC opener.

How many of those guys helped beat Vanderbilt that night? That answer is one.

McBride was his usual adept self on special teams in the win. But he is still not a starter at Georgia.

Salyer was out due to an injury. His future is still very bright. There are only four guys from those bullets points that are still Bulldogs right now.

And yet this 2019 roster is still that deep.

That’s the funny thing about stars and projections. The hype usually flows to the very best players. It certainly creates a culture and a climate of high expectations around all those guys.

Nolan Smith certainly looked like he deserved all that attention on Saturday. So did Travon Walker.

That said, everyone starts with a blank slate once they reach college. They start deciding then what their college try is going to look like.

It hinges on what they pour out of themselves into every summer meeting, workouts, off-season lift and conditioning rep.

The way they dive headfirst into their playbooks does matter a great deal.

The ones who treat those things like they are already working to be a professional between the lines will soar.

The ones who do not emote the wrong body language the first time they dress for a college game and do not get meaningful reps.

That’s if they make the bus altogether. And it is going to be harder and harder to do that at Georgia.

The Bulldogs started two true freshmen in their 2018 season opener against Austin Peay. They played 25 redshirt and true freshmen that day.

Vanderbilt was an SEC foe this time around, but no true freshmen started on Saturday night. There were only 13 redshirt or true freshmen who played.

Nolan Smith-Georgia football-UGA football
Elite recruiting matters. But not every player is going to shine right away and flash right out of the gate like freshman OLB Nolan Smith. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Number crunching this very deep Georgia football team 

Georgia tries to sign the very best 23-to-25 football players it can every cycle. It tries to do the same for the next year, too.

The aim is to recruit over the guys that signed the year before. UGA better be in the habit of signing players with the drive and the talent to push the two-deep early on in Athens.

If not, then that is not recruiting at a championship level.

If not, then losses like Mr. Cox and Mr. Fields and Mr. Holloman sting a lot more. When things don’t work out for young men like that in Athens, it is unfortunate.

It is also inevitable. Everyone is not going to happy within that crucible of competition in Athens.

That is the foundation of the Georgia program. Kirby Smart brings that up all the time in his media sessions. Georgia has to stack up the elite prospects like all the patrons on the floors of the watering holes off-Broadway last weekend.

It creates the program’s DNA: Contested reps in every practice. Everything is earned.

When the eventual injuries arise, they do not sink a season.

Here’s another subtle fact: The best college football teams are low-key stocked with juniors and seniors. Those guys who have soaked up all the practice reps and strength training and playbook time they could for three or four seasons. Michael Barnett and Justin Young serve as perfect examples of that.

It seems like this team has depth everywhere. But this group could have been even better. Like the-most talented-team-in-the-nation kind of depth.

Stop for a second. Think about the depth of this roster when:

  • There is only one senior out of the top 10 signees in 2016 who is a clear starter. That’s Charlie Woerner.
  • It is interesting to see No. 4 Julian Rochester, No. 5 Ben Cleveland, No. 7 Michail Carter and No. 8 Woerner are all that’s left from the 10 highest-rated signees in Smart’s first class.
  • There are only 10 members of that actual 2016 class still in the program. Those guys should be the core seniors now.
  • When taking a look at the 12 highest-rated guys from the 2017 class, all of these guys have yet to make an impact or are no longer at UGA: Gibbs (No. 6); Johnson (No. 7); Beal (No. 8); Holloman (No. 9); Jaden Hunter (No. 11) and Tray Bishop (No. 12).
  • The Bulldogs are still waiting for the No. 13 (Malik Herring), the No. 14 (McBride) and the No. 15 players (William Poole III) to deliver out of that class. Poole wasn’t even on the bus to Vanderbilt.
  • It is a very good thing that the top 5 prospects from the ’17 class were a few guys named Wilson, LeCounte, Swift, Fromm and Thomas.
  • Set aside those five names from that signing class. There are only three signees from the nation’s No. 3 class (Walter Grant, Monty Rice and Eric Stokes) that have already made a major impact.
  • It looks like Matt Landers and Mark Webb are on the way to that status this fall. Herring is another talented guy I think still has some very good football ahead of him. Yet he didn’t play last weekend in Nashville.
  • The ’18 class has already seen three of the top 15 signees leave the program in Cox, Fields and Ford.
  • There are another six elite signees (Anderson, Cook, Salyer, Tindall, Walker and White) from 2018 who have yet to start a game.
  • When a few big names miss, there seems to be a trend of this staff finding guys like a Solomon Kindley or an Eric Stokes or a big find like Jordan Davis to balance things out. Those 3-stars have played like they were the elite recruits coming out of high school.

Kind of crazy to think about all of that. Says something about ratings. Also says something about how this team has still achieved minus a lot of sudden impacts.

That comes down to coaching and player development.

I’d bet a whole lot of folks didn’t think the Stokes-Kindley duo would mean more for Georgia than the likely Gibbs-Johnson highlight reels would.

I didn’t.

Hard to believe, right? That’s just “The Georgia Way” these days. This program no longer needs to see every elite recruit shine brightly to win big.

It just signs so many of late that the law of averages simply takes over.

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