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Georgia wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5) during the 2021 G-Day Game on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, April 17, 2021. (photo by Rob Davis)
Rob Davis

Georgia football should be less reliant on freshmen in 2021 season

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Georgia figures to be less reliant on freshmen than in year’s past

Kirby Smart has been able to accurately tell recruits that you can play early at Georgia. Andrew Thomas started 15 games at right tackle in 2017, his freshman season.

Jermaine Burton started seven games for Georgia and became the team’s third-leading receiver in 2020. Jake Fromm, Tyson Campbell and Jacob Eason each started double-digit games in their first years on campus.

Even those like Nakobe Dean, D’Andre Swift and Jordan Davis were able to find consistent playing time early on at Georgia.

So there should be the expectation that Georgia is going to need freshman contributions for the 2021 season, right? And that we’re likely to see a handful of starters or significant contributors?

Looking at this year’s roster and the 2021 signing class though, that may not be the case.

In part, it speaks to how well Smart has recruited in recent seasons. Georgia has landed at least a top-four class in each of the last five years. The only other program that can make that claim is Alabama.

The 2021 Georgia recruiting class though is a small step back for the Bulldogs in terms of its final recruiting rankings. The Bulldogs finished with the No. 4 class in this past cycle. It’s the lowest-ranked class Smart has signed since his 2016 class, which he had all of two months to piece together after coming over from the Crimson Tide.

It’s also the smallest class Georgia signed in terms of sheer prospects. The Bulldogs signed only 20 prospects this past cycle.

That can be attributed in part to the NCAA’s amended transfer rule, granting players immediate eligibility. Georgia has already brought in two transfers in Tykee Smith and Brandon Turnage.

Related: Alabama addition of Henry To’o To’o should signal transfer portal change for Georgia football

If you’re going to take two or three transfers every cycle, that’s going to eat into the number of prospects you bring in. Georgia isn’t going to sacrifice taking an elite high school prospect for the short-term satisfaction of landing a transfer portal player.

But in bringing in Smith and Turnage — and possibly another player — it makes it less likely Georgia is going to play David Daniel, Nyland Green or Kamari Lassiter this season.

The Bulldogs have some pretty obvious holes in the secondary. That’s why Georgia went out and added Smith and Turnage along with the signing of four defensive backs in the 2021 class. Defensive back happened to be a short and long-term need for Georgia this offseason.

Smart knew this day was coming though. That’s why he landed Kelee Ringo and Jalen Kimber as cornerbacks in the 2020 recruiting class. Neither got a chance to play in 2020 due to injuries and a talented secondary. But Georgia knew they’d be needed for this coming season.

“You have to plan these things a year out,” Smart said in February of 2020. “We’re looking at this plan and saying, ‘Okay, these guys have to be ready to play, possibly next year, but really the next year.’”

Related: Georgia football secondary growing, Jalen Kimber ‘committed’ to greatness

Defensive back isn’t the only position of need for Georgia this year. There are major questions on the offensive line heading into the season. Georgia did sign three offensive line prospects who rank among the top-100 overall players in the 2021 recruiting cycle.

The Bulldogs though have recruited exceptionally well on the offensive line. It’s also developed lesser-heralded recruits as well. In doing so, it’s created an environment where Amarius Mims, the No. 7 player in the 2021 cycle, doesn’t need to be thrust into action because of a significant need.

If Mims is going to be Georgia’s starting left tackle, or Green a starting cornerback, it will be because they beat out a number of similarly talented players for playing time.

NextKirby Smart coaching strengths may be getting overlooked
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