From time to time, the staff at DawgNation will answer direct questions from readers about subjects pertinent to Georgia football. This installment reflects an opinion on an issue that doesn’t really have an exact answer.
Georgia has recruited at an optimum level for the last three cycles. Yet it isn’t logical to expect every recruit that a program signs to be a 1 or a 2-year contributor in the SEC, much less reach the NFL.
A quick sample is to look at the players the Bulldogs signed from 2009-2013. Georgia signed up 111 players in those classes, but the NFL only drafted 27 of those prospects along the 2012-2017 drafts.
That’s a 24% hit rate for the NFL, but the odds aren’t much better for all of those players to have memorable and productive careers in Athens.
A quick look at the most recent signing class to have fully completed its time in Athens shows that. According to 247Sports, the Bulldogs enrolled 32 prospects in their 2013 class. That was an all-time woeful year for UGA recruiting, but I can conservatively say that only six of those guys had the career they hoped to find in Athens.
The numbers improve for the 2012 group. That class saw 10 vibrant careers from 19 signees, including five who would go on to the NFL. The number looks like 8 out of 24 from 2011. (Note: These three classes are a major reason why Mark Richt is in Coral Gables right now.)
What does a player have to do (or not to do) to be considered a “bust” or a “miss” in recruiting?
When a recruit is a valued member of the program who does everything the staff ask of him and goes on to get his degree, then it is hard (and probably short-sided) to call that guy a bust. The staff that signed him just didn’t properly identify his potential.
But that is a utopian way of looking at things. Players sign to play. That is the intent in the eyes of the coaches who recruit them, the families that love and support them, the fans who hang on every recruiting word and Joe Bulldog Fan in general.
I think the following players need to be pointed out before sharing a hard-and-fast answer to the question presented above. Where would this year’s team be without the following players?
- Senior OL Kendall Baker (UGA varsity letters: 1)
Why: Signed in 2014 and promptly redshirted. Saw action in three games in 2015. Played in just two more in 2016. Started 14 out of 15 games at left guard in 2017 for his first varsity letter. Now seen as a utility substitute who can play guard and tackle. He’s played in all three games in 2018.
- Junior ILB Tae Crowder (UGA varsity letters: 1)
Why: Signed as the lowest-rated member of the 2015 class. Flipped from receiver to running back to linebacker. Redshirted in 2015. Moved to ILB in 2016. Earned his first varsity letter by playing in all 15 games of 2017. Recovered the key “squib” kick in The Rose Bowl that led to those much-needed momentum field goal points at the end of the half. Has played in all three games in 2018.
- Senior OLB Keyon Richardson(UGA varsity letters: 1)
Why: Signed and redshirted in 2014. Scout team work in 2015 and 2016. Earned his first varsity letter by playing in 14 of 15 games in 2017. Has played in all three games of 2018.
- Senior ILB Juwan Taylor (UGA varsity letters: 2)
Why: Signed in 2015. Collected 11 combined tackles in 2015 and 2016. Did not start, but earned his first letter in 2016. Did not start a game in 2017, but finished with 13 tackles. Taylor has now started the first three games of 2018 at “Will” linebacker. It is a very impressive career climb.
The careers of those four persevering Bulldogs matter in this discussion. That’s because I’m sure somebody at one point wondered if they were ever going to see meaningful playing time at UGA.
When is it time to wonder if a guy will play for UGA?
There is no hard and fast template. It will also only become harder and harder for recruits to earn immediate playing time on a perennial top 5 team that now stockpiles elite young talent at every position.
That said, a team-first culture and “iron sharpens iron” mantra is prevalent at UGA. Those young guys can be the stars of the scout team. Remember the praise for preferred walk-on QB Stetson Bennett IV?
Some guys simply can’t stay healthy enough to compete in practice to earn playing time. The term “miss” is more often applied for those guys. Remember 5-star RB Keith Marshall? He had all the talent in the world but has also had some of the worst luck with injuries.
I do see a fair window to wonder if a player will ever play for Georgia. The opinion here is that two seasons are enough to judge whether or not a player has the potential to fill even a “late bloomer” role.
I largely look to where these guys are after their second spring practice. That is enough time for a player to flash. Especially if that player has not suffered a season-ending injury.
At UGA, a player now needs to make a move by his second spring practice. That’s when only the early enrollees from the new class are around plus the three classes from the previous team.
If not, the June arrivals from the signing classes that Kirby Smart and his staff are becoming known for will cut into their reps to finally make an impression. In most cases, the ties for playing time roles often go to the younger player.
The second full year at any level (HS, college, NFL) is when the best players start to reel in their potential and show their coaches what they can be. There are exceptions, but that is the norm.
If a player signs with UGA and does not contribute on the field for at least 1-2 seasons, that’s when the term “bust” or “miss” could be properly applied.
If a player provides depth for several seasons and then breaks through to start his final year, then I don’t see how a “bust” or a “miss” label would really apply.
A 5-star that never plays at any program will be seen as a “bust” by the recruiting industry. But the 3 and 4-star signees who never contribute are in most cases seen as a recruiting “miss” by the program.