ATHENS — The 2021 Georgia football team is loaded with NFL talent and players worthy of All-American honors, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being an All-American pick.
Coaches and players at championship-level programs typically rolled their eyes at such preseason and postseason lists, taking the necessary team-first approach while realizing the NFL scouts have their own, more important, list of favorites.
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All-American and All-conference honors might mean more to players than ever before with the pending NIL legislation, in terms of adding marketing value.
But those teams, as evidenced by the most recent preseason All-American team to come out, can be political and somewhat misleading.
The 2019 Georgia defense presented an example of such. The Bulldogs led the SEC in each of the four major defensive statistical categories — total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense.
And yet, UGA failed to have a defensive player named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press, hence the ironic “No-Name Defense” tag.
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Or course there were names, and a look at NFL rosters proves that — Seven defensive backs off of that 2019 team are in the NFL, two inside linebackers, two interior defensive linemen and two defensive ends.
But none were first-team All-SEC. Okay.
So when looking at the recently released Walter Camp preseason All-American team, and the four Georgia players selected to the second team, it’s worth considering and remembering the subjectivity of the process.
UGA defensive tackle Jordan Davis, punter Jake Camarda were definitely worth their slots on the second team, and a case could be made for Jamaree Salyer.
If George Pickens were healthy, then he would have warranted his spot. But with Pickens out indefinitely with a torn ACL — at least until November, in one of the more optimistic scenarios, the spot would have better served to have gone to someone else.
Fact is, the Bulldogs have several stars capable of national breakthroughs this season, and some that have already proven themselves worthy of honors.
In addition to the aforementioned players, here are some names that could find themselves on the preseason lists for those paying close attention or the postseason awards lists:
— QB JT Daniels. It’s not just a matter of winning the SEC, which Daniels will need to do to be the first-team All-SEC quarterback, but this will also be a numbers game.
The good news for Georgia is that Todd Monken’s Pro Style Spread Offense, with its Air Raid principles and weapons galore, figures to rank among the most efficient in the nation. Considering, Daniels completed 67 percent of his passes over the final four games last season, and the Bulldogs were converting on 64 percent of their third downs versus SEC competition.
— WR Arik Gilbert/Jermaine Burton. One, or both, might find themselves on postseason All-American or All-SEC lists provided Kirby Smart turns loose his offense in full.
Smart is all about winning games, and if he thinks building large leads with the pass game is the better route to a championship than grinding out the second half on the ground with decisive leads, then that’s what he will do.
The UGA offense is predicated on taking what the defense gives, but in some instances, Daniels will feel comfortable enough to fit the ball into his prime targets.
— RB Undetermined. Zamir White is the most experienced and assignment sound, Kendall Milton is the most dynamic runner, James Cook is the best pass catcher, Kenny McIntosh is the most versatile and Daijun Edwards has already shown a high ceiling.
Whoever runs the ball will have a high yards-per-carry because the UGA offense will spread out opponents and take defenders out of the “box,” making for more running room.
It will be hard for any UGA runner to put up all-star numbers, like Najee Harris did at Alabama last season if a player does not separate enough to warrant the majority of work.
— OL Warren McClendon was a freshman All-American last season, but UGA has recruited so well that his job isn’t even safe. Georgia should have gaudy run numbers because of the threat of the pass, but the key stat will be sacks and pressures allowed, and that remains an area of concern as young talent grows into reliable starters. Salyer is the only truly established star.
— DT Devonte Wyatt is not only a great compliment to Davis, he’s also a handful in his own right. Wyatt was second only to Azeez Ojulari in QB Pressures in 2019 and led the UGA interior linemen in tackles last season. Jalen Carter is a rising star, but as part of a rotation, isn’t likely to put up the eye-popping numbers typical of all-stars at the position.
— OLB Adam Anderson. This is where the word “Freak” applies in the most complimentary way. In addition to his explosive pass-rush abilities, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Anderson runs with tailback speed in the open field, deadly in pursuit. A special talent, Anderson has been the team player who has waited for his time to shine, and it has arrived.
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— MLB Nakobe Dean. This seems like a slam-dunk, because Dean patrols sideline-to-sideline like few others, and is one of the best open-field tacklers in the SEC. Dean is coming off labrum surgery, but if he’s 100 percent, it would be shocking if he didn’t earn all-league honors.
— Safety Lewis Cine. The hit on Florida’s Kyle Pitts will always have a place in the Georgia highlight reels, even though Cine was ejected after Pitts ducked into the contact. Cine is more than a big hitter, however, with his tackling skills and range in center field.
There are some UGA players who could emerge as stars this season that haven’t seen much action in the SEC or have a limited sample of work to date:
TE Darnell Washington
RB Kendall Milton
RB Kenny McIntosh
DE Nolan Smith
DL Travon Walker
LB Quay Walker
CB Jalen Kimber
DB Tykee Smith
CB Derion Kendrick
CB Kelee Ringo