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Kirby Smart couldn't land every major target in the 2020 recruiting cycle.

How Georgia football ended up missing on Tank Bigsby, Theo Johnson and some of its top targets

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Why Georgia ended up missing on some of its top targets

Georgia football and Kirby Smart have put themselves in a position to potentially land the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Georgia currently sits at No. 4 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, but by Sunday morning, the Bulldogs could be sitting with the No. 1 class if it lands 5-star prospects Darnell Washington, Zach Evans and Kelee Ringo.

Evans — the nation’s No. 14 overall prospect — and Washington, — the No. 10 prospect — announce their decision on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., while Ringo will announce his on Saturday in San Antonio. All three are the top-ranked player at their respective positions.

The Bulldogs will end up with a top-three signing class for the fourth consecutive season. It will be the only team in the country that can say that.

And yet, Georgia still won’t have gotten every player it wanted in this class. When you recruit as many talented players as Georgia does, you’re bound to miss on some guys. Sometimes, another school prioritizes a recruit more than Georgia, while other times it’s hard to pull a player from their home state.

DawgNation caught up with a number of prospects at the Under Armour All-American game this week. Some of them considered Georgia down until the final moments, while others wanted to play for Georgia but were put off by Georgia’s recruiting tactics. This is how Georgia sees some of the very players it wanted to become Bulldogs, end up playing for rival programs.

Theo Johnson couldn’t make the leap

Georgia wanted to take two tight ends in this class, given Charlie Woerner and Eli Wolf are both departing after the Sugar Bowl. Should Georgia land Washington, as it is widely expected to, he’ll fill one of those vacancies. But Georgia wanted to pair him with Theo Johnson.

For those who have forgotten, Johnson is the No. 3 ranked tight end prospect in the class. He’s the No. 1 prospect in Canada and an extremely fluid athlete. Seeing him in Orlando this week, prior to going down with a shoulder injury, he moves better than Washington and made some impressive grabs in coverage.

Johnson liked the atmosphere and culture around the Georgia program. He really had a strong relationship with tight end coach Todd Hartley. But Georgia ended up finishing as a runner-up to Penn State.

And the big reason why was because of Georgia’s recent development — or lack thereof —of the tight end position.

“I told coach Hartley, ‘I just don’t know how much I’m going to be developed as a tight end.’ If you can show me that then I won’t have any doubts,” Johnson said.  “But I had a lot of doubts.

“It was tough making that leap.”

To Johnson’s point, Since 2014, only twice has a Georgia tight end finish with more than 20 catches in a season. Over that same time span, Penn State has accomplished that feat five times.

But Johnson doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Georgia program. In fact, he’s actually rooting for Georgia to end up with Washington.

“I would be very happy to see Darnell at Georgia, just because even though he (Todd Hartley) didn’t get me, he was going to be just fine,” Johnson said. “And I know if Darnell goes there he’ll be in good hands.”

Related: Darnell Washington: The family side of his early signing period decision

Georgia is going to be seeing a Tank

Like tight end, Georgia wanted to take two running backs. It landed its first in Kendall Milton when he committed in July. He’s the No. 37 ranked prospect in the country and is already in Athens getting ready to help the Bulldogs. Georgia could make Evans that second running back.

But for many in the state of Georgia who also root for the Bulldogs, they wanted to see Tank Bigsby in the Red and Black. Bigsby is the No. 27  player in the country and the top-ranked running back in the state. He comes from Hogansville, Ga and was one of the more popular players in the cycle.

Milton always knew Georgia was going to try and pair him with another elite running back, much like how it did with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. After Milton committed he spoke about potentially teaming up with either Bigsby or Evans.

Related: Kendall Milton: Elite RB signee chose Athens over All-American experience this week

But just weeks after Milton committed, Bigsby had made up his mind. And he knew that it wasn’t going to be Georgia.

“Everything I was looking for in college just wasn’t there,” Bigsby said.

He ended up picking Auburn. As for why, he felt that Auburn was consistent with him throughout the process, something he didn’t feel about Georgia.

“Loyalty is a big thing to me. They were real with me,” Bigsby said of Auburn. “Same relationship from the get go.”

Bigsby represents a growing number of top players from the state of Georgia who will be playing their college ball elsewhere. Of the top 25 prospects in the state according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, only Tate Ratledge signed with Georgia during the early signing period. Broderick Jones is committed but he is receiving heavy interest from Auburn before making his final decision on Feb. 5.

Related: Broderick Jones updates his recruitment

Bigsby was very blunt about what Georgia could’ve done differently in his recruitment while adding that he’s excited he gets to play against the Bulldogs every year.

“Just be real, instead of shooting all that fake stuff,” Bigsby said. “Kids are coming in wanting to play, you just have to be real with them.”

Georgia tried to add two elite defensive linemen only to see them end up at rivals

The Bulldogs signed three defensive linemen in the 2020 class, with Jalen Carter being the best of them. He’s had a strong week in Orlando and could possibly carve out some early playing time in Athens next year.

But Georgia is set to lose at least five defensive linemen next year. That’s why Georgia pushed hard for the likes of Gervon Dexter and Jordan Burch.

Dexter is the No. 31 prospect in the country and the No. 3 defensive tackle. And those numbers will likely go up after his monster week in Orlando.

Dexter had been committed to Florida since November of 2018, just a week after the Bulldogs beat Florida 36-17. But that never stopped Georgia from trying to get Dexter to flip his allegiances.

“They were on me real hard until the last day,” Dexter said. “It was tight up until the end, but I just realized at the end that Florida was home.”

Dexter had said that Georgia was using the possibility of early playing time as their top pitch.

That allure of home is another big reason why Georgia was unable to pull Jordan Burch from South Carolina. Despite taking a number of visits to Georgia, Burch ended up picking South Carolina on Dec. 18.

Burch hasn’t signed yet but from speaking to him he seems pretty set on going to South Carolina. Another reason the Gamecocks were able to stand out is because of the way they went about pitching the No. 5 player in the country.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I felt like I was a priority and not another option,” Burch said. “They have seniors leaving and I feel like I can go in and play that position. I feel like they need me at defensive end.”

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