ATHENS – It was Georgia’s most star-crossed recruiting in recent memory. Several would become infamous, and one wound up playing against Georgia. But many others became actual stars, fulfilling their promise and forming a class whose success has been under-appreciated.
As Georgia prepares to sign one of its best recruiting classes in recent history, it’s worth harkening back to that 2011 Dream Team class, which may be the most similar to the one that’s about to arrive in Athens.
Both came after disappointing seasons and trips to the Liberty Bowl. Both were built mainly on in-state talent. Both were highly-rated: The Dream came in sixth nationally in the 247Sports Composite, while Kirby Smart’s second class projects to be third right now.
“I really believe that this class will end up being the largest and most talented and the best bunch in the 11 years now (I’ve been at Georgia),” Richt said on signing day in 2011.
It probably didn’t end up that way, as several of his earlier classes ended up producing the key cogs in SEC championship teams. The Dream Team never won more than the SEC East. And the player who came to symbolize it – five-star tailback Isaiah Crowell, declaring for Georgia on signing day by hosting a puppy – was gone after just one season.
That’s not to say there weren’t success stories. There have been many, in fact.
Ten Dream Teamers have gone on to appear in at least one NFL game, and nine have started at least one game in the pros. Two are in the Super Bowl this week, including David Andrews, who will be snapping the ball to Tom Brady.
Among the 24 players in that 2011 class, two were five-stars and nine were four-stars. But among the three-stars were three future NFL starters: Andrews, receiver Chris Conley and linebacker Ramik Wilson.
Five-star receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who picked Georgia over Alabama, is a rookie with the Patriots, and will also be playing in the Super Bowl this week. The other Dream Teamers who have played in the NFL: Damian Swann, Corey Moore, John Jenkins, Nick Marshall and Amarlo Herrera. (Sterling Bailey hasn’t played but is on the Minnesota Vikings’ roster.)
Two of those future pros – Crowell and Marshall – only played one year at Georgia, dismissed for off-field incidents. So were fellow Dream Teamers Chris Sanders and Sanford Seay, while a fifth, Quintavius Harrow, left for academic reasons. Marshall ended up at Auburn as the quarterback, playing his former team twice.
So yes, it was bumpy for many. But in the end the immediate result was two straight appearances in the SEC championship game, and a five-year record (Mitchell among those staying five years) of 50-17.
The class was dominated by in-state talent: That year Georgia signed the first, second, fourth, sixth and seventh-rated prospects in Georgia. But that’s where the 2011 and 2017 classes diverge.
Georgia right now has eight commitments who are ranked between 10th and 20th in the state of Georgia. In 2011, Georgia only had four ranked between 10th and 20th.
“That’s really the difference. It’s not top heavy,” said Rusty Mansell, a recruiting analyst for Dawgs247.com. “Georgia really hammered the top 20 this year. And there’s always 20 SEC-level kids (in the state).”
That’s the very hopeful sign for the Bulldogs about this class. The Dream Team class doesn’t get enough credit for how well it turned out. And if this class is even better, and even deeper, then that’s very good news for Georgia.