ATHENS — Malik Herring isn’t the first name that comes to mind when Georgia football fans start talking about returning star players.
Herring may not even be the second, third, fourth or fifth player mentioned in conversation about the Bulldogs’ top-rated defense.
Herring played in 12 of 14 games last season and started in nine, including the Sugar Bowl when he made a career-high five tackles including 1.5 TFLs.
ESPN recently identified Herring as the SEC’s top returning edge rusher, ranking him No. 5 in that category.
“Herring is set to take on a bigger role in his senior season, and his past play proved he deserves that opportunity,” author Anthony Treash penned in the ESPN-plus pay article. “He hasn’t played many snaps over the past two seasons — just 488, to be exact — but he produced solid PFF grades of 86.2 and 86.6 in 2018 and 2019, respectively.”
Per the PFF metrics applied, Herring had a pass-rush win rate of 15.8 percent, which it ranked 29th among Power 5 defenders with at least 300 pass rushes since 2018.
When one considers the caliber of competition Herring has faced, it’s an impressive number
Of course, Herring hasn’t event secured a starting spot on the 2020 Georgia football team.
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It’s an indication of just how deep the talent runs, and a nod to the vast potential of rising sophomore Travon Walker.
Smart’s message last spring was that Herring needed to get more dialed in.
“Malik can be a good player, (but) he’s gotta hone in and do the little things right,” Smart said. “He’s gotta be a little more mature and serious about things to be the player we want him to be.
“He’s talented, though, and he’s played well. He’s just gotta mature some.”
As last season progressed, Herring did just that, and now he finds himself on the national radar.
Smart will surely remind Herring and his teammates that just means there will be a bigger target on his back.
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