ATHENS — Justin Fields generally gets the most buzz when it comes to Georgia’s 2018 football recruiting, and particularly when the discussion turns to which of the Bulldogs’ incoming freshmen might be the most impactful coming into this next season. But I’m not sure Fields’ name belongs atop that list.
I’m actually not 100 percent who’s name does, and for that I’ll definitely solicit your opinions. I mean, that’s yet another interesting thing about recruiting. You have players coming in from all over the place and with all sorts of different ratings and playing different positions, and everybody seems absolutely certain about which ones are going to come in and immediately get on the field and become difference-makers.
At least half the time, I’d guess, the majority opinion doesn’t come to pass. Think about last year.
Without question, quarterback Jake Fromm ended up being the most impactful freshman of the 2017 recruiting class. The early enrollee out of Houston County ended up playing in all 15 games, started the last 14 at quarterback and accounted for 2,694 yards and 27 touchdowns. Take one guess how many people guessed he’d had the most impact.
That’s right, zero (well, not counting the Fromm family and Jake’s former coach).
In fact, it was actually pretty interesting to go back and look which freshmen everybody was talking about this time last year. Generally, Isaiah Wilson, the top-rated tackle out of the Brooklyn, was the consensus freshman in Georgia’s class most identified as the most likely to become a regular starter. He was the choice of the well-respected Rusty Mansell of 247Sports.com and made virtually every list. As it turned out. Wilson did not play as a freshman.
Saturday Down South listed junior college transfer lineman D’Marcus Hayes No. 1 among what it believed to be Georgia’s five most impactful freshmen. Hayes also did not play.
Our own Jeff Sentell tabbed defensive back Richard LeCounte III. LeCounte did play in 10 games and made one start but wasn’t what one would call “impactful.” Jeff also mentioned guard Netori Johnson as the most likely to get on the field among Georgia’s line signees. Johnson also didn’t play.
Seth Emerson mentioned Deangelo Gibbs, J.J. Holloman and Wilson in no uncertain order in answer to a mailbag question. Those players appeared in a combined 11 games as backups and none after the midpoint of the season.
And me? Sorry, I didn’t attempt such a prediction.
Just kidding. Of course I did.
In a column I wrote almost exactly a year ago, I, too listed Wilson first among three incoming freshman I thought might a difference. However, I’m proud to say had D’Andre Swift second and, yes, Fromm third.
I was swayed a little by having gone down to Macon followed Fromm and his grandfather on a hunting trip for a Next Generation story. But mainly I was going on comments made by coach Kirby Smart based what he’d seen from the young quarterback heading into spring practice.
As it turned out, 16 true freshmen and two transfers ended up playing for the Bulldogs in 2017. Besides Fromm, Andrew Thomas probably had the greatest impact, starting all 15 games at right tackle. Three other freshmen played in every game, including Swift, defensive end Malik Herring and outside linebacker Walter Grant. Linebacker Monty Rice played in 14 games and LeCounte (10) and fellow defensive back Ameer Speed (11) reached double figures.
All this is not say what poor prognosticators we all are (you already knew that; wink, wink.). No, it’s just to illustrate how unpredictable football and recruiting is, in general.
Take this year’s class (took me awhile to get there, didn’t it?). I do believe Fields will have an impact from the standpoint I expect the Bulldogs to get him ready to play and to have a package of plays specially for him. Barring injury, though, I expect Fromm to hang onto the starting spot and Fields only to come in when needed
But there are several position at which Georgia is hoping to get some immediate contribution, or at least needs to have someone step in immediately, freshman or not. There will certainly be opportunities at defensive back, where the Bulldogs are losing safeties/nickelbacks Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders. They have starting vacancies at all four linebacker positions, though lettermen stand at the ready to fill in there. There are openings at noseguard and cornerback on defense and left tackle, tailback and wideout on offense and opportunities all over the place.
I expect Swift to step in at tailback, Thomas to switch to left tackle and McGhee or Speed to take over at corner. I suspect LeCounte or Gibbs will assume a lot of playing time at safety and/or nickel and Grant and D’Andre Walker to be ready to go at outside linebacker. I’m sure Natrez Patrick will resume his starting position at inside linebacker at some point and Julian Rochester is in line to take over at noseguard, but not unquestionably so.
That leaves an inside linebacker position, an offensive line spot, some receiver reps, some down-lineman snaps and some tailback totes up for grabs. And, of course, the punting job is wide up with Cameron Nizalek’s departure.
If Zamir White were healthy, I’d probably give him the nod in this exercise. He’s not, but James Cook is. Tommy Bush seems to have the body to replace some of the high-point targets Javon Wims was getting. Georgia sure did sign a lot of high-caliber linebackers and defensive backs. One of those guys certainly could have the goods to become a regular starter.
I’m going to cop out and go with three as most likely to succeed: cornerback Tyson Campbell, inside linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt.
What say you all?