Every summer for the past five years, I’ve done this ranking of the most important players for the Georgia football team’s upcoming season. When it came to the 2017 list, this is the hardest time I’ve had.
It’s a subjective ranking. This is not necessarily a ranking of Georgia’s best players. It is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the Bulldogs’ success based on their talent, the importance of their position, the depth at their position and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
Here was last year’s list, along with a note on how it worked out:
- No. 12: Isaiah McKenzie: Should’ve been higher, it turns out.
- No. 11: Whoever won the place-kicker job: Arguably should’ve been higher, too.
- No. 10: Reggie Carter: While he did start some games, he wasn’t a full-time starter.
- No. 9: Dominick Sanders: Ended up about where he should have.
- No. 8: The OLB combination of Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter: About right.
- No. 7: Sony Michel: About right.
- No. 6: Tyler Catalina: Catalina’s performance was indicative of the line as a whole, and thus maybe he could have been higher.
- No. 5: The backup quarterback, whoever that ends up being: Didn’t end up important. The thinking here was if Jacob Eason failed, Greyson Lambert or Brice Ramsey would be called upon, but Eason started from Week 2 onward.
- No. 4: Trent Thompson: Didn’t need to be this high, as it turned out, but only because the entire defensive line ended up being so good that Thompson was benched briefly during the season and hardly anyone noticed.
- No. 3: Terry Godwin: Should’ve been lower because of McKenzie’s emergence. On the other hand, you could argue Godwin not emerging as the main guy turned out to be important, because Georgia’s passing game would have been better if he had.
- No. 2: Jacob Eason: This was either right on, or he should’ve been one spot higher.
- No. 1: Nick Chubb: You might argue Chubb’s quick return to health didn’t turn out to be as important, as his he didn’t lift the offense to great heights. The counter to that would be: Where would Georgia’s offense been without him?
Maurice Smith, as it turned out, was rather important too, but this time last year he wasn’t on the radar. Isaac Nauta is one of those who could have been on this list, for the right reasons. (Where would the passing game have been without him?) Roquan Smith ended up one of the best players on the defense, which in hindsight was predictable.
Some other players were important too, for the wrong reasons. The weaknesses of last year’s team have been well-chronicled.
Now on to 2017.
There’s uncertainty at some key positions, especially on offense. There are key incoming freshmen who could compete for those spots and push established starters.
In some cases, it’s easy to predict the newcomer will play and have a key role. In other cases, it’s too much of a leap to put on this list. And while there are breakout star candidates – especially on defense – they play at deep positions.
So there are potentially key players who will not be on the list.
Now with all that in mind … let’s begin this year’s list.
Lamont Gaillard is one of two returning starters for the offensive line. (Caroll Gambrell / UGA)
12. LAMONT GAILLARD
WHY HE’S VITAL: The center will almost always be on this list … though Brandon Kublanow was not last year, perhaps because he was a known quantity at the position. Gaillard is not, having started at right guard last season, a couple years after arriving at Georgia as a 4-star defensive lineman. So how will he handle the transition to center, and everything that entails? How will he anchor the interior blocking of the line, so much of an issue for last year’s offense? How will Gaillard be as a leader for a line that will have three new starters, with probably all five at spots they didn’t start at last year – including Gaillard? The answer to those questions will be vital to how much – or whether – Georgia gets much-needed improvement from its line.
FACTOID: Gaillard won the team’s “Own the Trenches Award” for his spring practice performance.
BEST CASE: Gaillard locks down the center spot, providing leadership to everyone around him, especially the two new starters at left and right guard. (One or both could be freshmen.) The interior line makes a huge leap, opening holes that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel didn’t see last year. Jacob Eason gets little pressure up the middle.
WORST CASE: Gaillard’s transition is rough, the guards suffer as a result, and the middle of Georgia’s line is as leaky as last year, perhaps worse. The offense as a whole struggles to make up for it.
FINAL WORD: Something between the best case and worst case is likely. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman usually sees improvement in Year 2, so expect some from Gaillard and the interior line. But also keep in mind Gaillard is a former defensive lineman, so hoping for a first-team All-SEC or David Andrews-like performance this year is a bit much.