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.

Offensive tackle Amarius Mims is the highest-rated player in the  class to date, a 5-star ranked No. 7 overall in the nation, No. 1 in the state of Georgia, and No. 3 at his position.

“That’s a depth position that we always target,” Smart said. “It’s a developmental position. I say it every year, ‘Offensive lineman, it’s really hard to come in and play.’

“I am really excited about this group. They are athletic. They have great size. They are really bright, good kids.”

What about Brock?

Quarterback is a developmental position, too, especially when you’re running the Pro Style, Air Raid concepts offensive coordinator Todd Monken has brought to Georgia.

RELATED: Kirby Smart excited about Brock Vandagriff

USC transfer JT Daniels has shown just how effective the Bulldogs can be with the scheme, and local QB signee Brock Vandagriff said that’s one of the things he liked about Georgia.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Prince Avenue Christian continues to dominate the small private ranks.

Vandagriff is expected to lead his team, coached by his father, to the Class 1A state title and finish with its only loss to Rabun County (Ga.) and South Carolina signee Gunner Stockton.

With Daniels expected back, the real race could be for the No. 2 snaps as redshirt freshman and former Florida Class 8A state champ Carson Beck and Vandagriff look to overcome the comfort zone Smart seems to have with redshirt junior Stetson Bennett.

Far less drama is expected in the quarterback room moving forward, but the QB competition makes for an interesting spring, at the very least.

The big question

Smart hinted at the question most everyone has but doesn’t want to confront: Will Georgia lose junior nose tackle Jordan Davis?

The case has been made that the Bulldogs aren’t losing national championships to Alabama and Clemson on the front end of the recruiting process, but rather, the back end.

The Tide and Tigers have several key players who are draftable each season return to become high first-round picks, rather than turn pro early and fall into the second half of the first round or beyond.

Consider, what would Georgia look like if D’Andre Swift (second round), Solomon Kindley (fourth round) and Jake Fromm (fifth round) returned this season?

Davis, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound player, would be a cornerstone in the Georgia defense who could win the Outland Trophy while working himself into the lottery ranks of the 2022 NFL draft.

The Bulldogs sights are set on a title run with an explosive offense coming back — the possibility of LSU opt out Arik Gilbert ultimately wearing red and black —   and Davis would be the key cog in a reloaded defense.

Smart, facing the prospect of replacing senior interior defensive linemen Julian Rochester and Devonte Wyatt, explained why he’s looking for another defensive tackle via transfer in January.

“I always want to get two pillars, I’m talking about a guy who won’t give up the point and can make a run or make it hard to run against,” Smart said. “Those are always hard to find in defensive linemen, which is who we love to have.”

Even the best of incoming freshman can’t fill that sort of role, exhibited by the drop-off from Davis to a most agile and athletic Jalen Carter this season.

The transfer portal could hold the answer, and that’s where Georgia football next moves on to with the impressive early haul complete.

There’s more work ahead if Georgia is to return to the College Football Playoff next season.

Here’s a speculative look at one opinion on which players could return to Georgia next season:

Defensive line (11)

RS Senior Julian Rochester

Senior Devonte Wyatt

Junior Jordan Davis

RS Sophomore Tramel Walthour

Sophomore Travon walker

RS Freshman Tymon Mitchell

RS Freshman Bill Norton

RS Freshman Zion Logue

Freshman Jalen Carter

Freshman Warren Brinson

Freshman Nazir Stackhouse

Outside linebacker (5)

Junior Robert Beal

Junior Adam Anderson

RS Sophomore Azeez Ojulari

Sophomore Nolan Smith

Freshman Mekhail Sherman

Interior linebacker (6)

Senior Nate McBride

Junior Channing Tindall

Junior Quay Walker

Sophomore Nakobe Dean

Sophomore Trezman Marshall

RS Freshman Rian Davis

Safeties (5)

RS Junior William Poole

RS Junior Latavious Brini

Sophomore Tyrique Stevenson

Sophomore Lewis Cine

Freshman Major Burns

Cornerbacks (4)

RS Junior Ameer Speed

Freshman Jalen Kimber

Freshman Kelee Ringo

Freshman Daran Branch

Special teams

Punter (1)

Junior Jake Camara

Kicker (1)

Freshman Jared Zirkel

Offensive line (13)

Junior Jamaree Salyer

RS Sophomore Owen Condon

RS Sophomore Warren Ericson

RS Freshman Xavier Truss

RS Freshman Warren McClendon

RS Freshman Clay Webb

Freshman Broderick Jones

Freshman Tate Rutledge

Freshman Chad Lindberg

Freshman Austin Blaske

Freshman Devon Willock

Freshman Sedrick Van Pran

Freshman Cameron Kinnie

Quarterbacks (3)

RS Junior Stetson Bennett

RS Sophomore JT Daniels

Freshman Carson Beck

Receivers (9)

RS Junior Matt Landers

RS Sophomore Kearis Jackson

Sophomore George Pickens

Sophomore Dominick Blaylock

Freshman Marcus Rosemy

Freshman Jermaine Burton

Freshman Arian Smith

Freshman Justin Robinson

Freshman Ladd McConkey

Running backs (4)

Junior James Cook

sophomore Kenny McIntosh

Freshman Kendall Milton

Freshman Daijun Edwards

Tight ends (4)

RS Sophomore John FitzPatrick

RS Freshman Ryland Goede

RS Freshman Brett Seither

Freshman Darnell Washington

 

 

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