Georgia’s No. 3-ranked 2021 class hits needs, more work and attrition ahead

by Curtis Compton AJC

ATHENS — Kirby Smart said he knows he’s supposed to say Georgia football met all of its needs with Wednesday’s haul of 20 early signees, but the head coach knows that might not be entirely accurate.

After all, Smart pointed out, how can he know exactly what the team needs are when underclassmen have until the middle of January to declare themselves eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft?

RELATED: Early Signing day complete blog

Still, the Bulldogs’ 2021 Class is impressive, to be sure. Georgia ranks No. 3 in the nation per the 247Sports composite and features eight Top 100 players and the local flair of 13 in-state prospects

It’s UGA’s largest class of early enrollees with 15 players expected to be on campus in January.

“It’s certainly the new trend,” Smart said, pointing out the COVID-19 recruiting restrictions and considerations likely contributed.

“They wanted to be near their families and have their families be able to watch them play. That’s been a big added factor during the pandemic, so I’m excited about the class.”

Where’s the problem?

Smart and his coaching staff surely have a good idea which players are most likely to move on, such as junior cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell.

If those players turn pro early, as expected, it leaves Georgia with at least four returning scholarship corners: junior Ameer Speed and freshmen Kelee Ringo, Daran Branch and Jalen Kimber.

One of the two players to flip from the Bulldogs on signing day was De’Jahn Warren, the nation’s No. 1-ranked JUCO cornerback. The pull of new Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders was apparently too much for UGA to overcome.

The fact Warren wasn’t drawn more to the competition level of the SEC compared with the FCS ranks is revealing enough to consider the JUCO’s flip a blessing in disguise.

Smart said he likes the cornerbacks Georgia signed, 4-stars Nyland Green (No. 5 CB in the 2021 Class) and Kamari Lassiter (No. 18 CB).

But, Smart conceded, he wouldn’t mind adding “another defensive back and another defensive lineman” before the traditional February signing day.

“There’s a different market available when people decide to leave or transfer,” Smart said, referring to how recruiting changes in January and beyond.

“It can go both ways; it could happen to us, and we could benefit from it.”

In other words, look for Georgia to benefit from the transfer portal at cornerback in January.

Speed rush

“Havoc” has been the buzz word for the Georgia defense the past two seasons, the Bulldogs tops in the SEC in total defense and run defense, and third in the league with 24 sacks.

With senior defensive end Malik Herring moving, senior Jermaine Johnson in the transfer portal and redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari considering his future, there’s room for elite edge players.

Georgia scored high in that department with 5-star prospects Xavian Sorey (No. 20 overall player in the nation) and Smael Mondon (29), the top two ranked outside linebackers in the nation.

The Bulldogs will continue to have a wealth of talent in that position meeting room, with former No. 1 overall recruit Nolan Smith (2019 class) returning along with last year’s No. 2-rated outside linebacker, MJ Sherman.

If veterans Robert Beal and Adam Anderson return at outside linebacker the competition will indeed be thick and Georgia will continue to be the envy of the SEC at the position.

Strength on strength

Smart shrugged off the bait when asked if Florida had passed Georgia in the SEC East, referring to Georgia’s glaring downfall of inexperience and injured quarterbacks in this year’s game in Jacksonville.

“I will say that a lot of football boils down to the line of scrimmage,” Smart said, “and I still think that we have really good line of scrimmages.”

The Georgia offensive line is primed to evolve into one of college football’s best, even with senior Ben Cleveland moving on and the possible exits of senior Justin Shaffer and junior center Trey Hill.

Matt Luke will be one more year into transitioning UGA into more of an athletic group that can provide enough power while also being capable of blocking better in space.

The Bulldogs signed only four offensive linemen in this year’s class, the minimum by Smart’s standard, but each brings a proven and impressive resume.

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