Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at Georgia’s defensive line for the 2020 season
Every Tuesday, we’re going to take a deep dive on every Georgia position in the run-up to the 2020 season. Georgia figures to have one of the most talented teams in the country and the Bulldogs have a number of talented players across the board. But there are still some questions that have to be answered if the Bulldogs are to achieve their end goals.
This week we take a look at the defensive line.
Plus: The biggest names return
We’ll get to the departures from the 2019 group in just a minute, but outside of Tyler Clark, all the top players from this unit return. That includes senior Malik Herring, who Pro Football Focus has graded as the top returning defensive lineman in the SEC.
There’s also Jordan Davis, Georgia’s massive nose tackle who serves as the most important player in Georgia’s stout run defense. If he’s able to improve as a pass rusher this year, it’s not all that far fetched to imagine him as one of the best players in the league.
Julian Rochester returns after redshirting as well last season, bringing another experienced member to the unit. Devonte Wyatt will also play a role within the group.
But the potentially brightest spot on the defensive line is in sophomore Travon Walker. He might have the highest ceiling of any defender on the Georgia team and really made strides over the second half of the season after recovering from a wrist injury. His biggest moment came on the final defensive play of the Auburn game, when he took down Auburn quarterback Bo Nix.
With all that Georgia has coming back, there’s a pretty easy case that this will be Kirby Smart’s most talented defensive line since he’s been the head coach in Athens
Minus: Depth takes a hit
While the top of the depth chart is strong, what’s behind them is a little bit shakier. Georgia did see five defensive linemen from the 2019 team graduate. Clark led the team in tackles for loss and will be a tough replacement and the Bulldogs also have to replace valuable role players in the likes of Michael Barnett and David Marshall.
Some of this will be offset by the likes of Davis and Walker taking on bigger roles and playing more this season. But they can’t possibly play all the snaps those five defensive linemen did a season ago.
That’s why Georgia will need to get some contributions from the other three defensive linemen it signed in the 2019 recruiting cycle. Tymon Mitchell, Zion Logue and Bill Norton all redshirted a season ago, giving them a chance to better adapt to the physical rigors of the college game. Now that they’re better acclimated, the Bulldogs are going to need some form of production to come from the trio, so that the players at the top of the depth chart aren’t overworked and worn down over the course of the season.
Plus: 5-star addition
For the second straight year, Georgia landed a 5-star defensive lineman as it signed Jalen Carter. The defensive tackle was rated as the No. 18 overall prospect in the class and comes from Apopka, Fla.
Carter saw his stock rise dramatically over the course of his senior season and he was one of the more dominant players at the Under Armour All-American practices last winter. Defensive linemen don’t traditionally have a big impact in their first season, but Georgia won’t need that from Carter.
If he can follow a similar track to what Walker did a season ago, Carter will fill a valuable role for Georgia. And while he’s clearly talented, he’ll have to work hard to get on the field given the players at the top of the depth chart.
Carter is one of three defensive line signees in the 2020 cycle for Georgia, as they also landed Warren Brinson and Nazir Stackhouse.
Minus: Questionable statistical production
Georgia has never really relied on its defensive line to be the statistical leaders of the defense. Trent Thompson is the only defensive lineman to lead the team in sacks under Smart, and prior to Clark last year, Thompson’s 2016 campaign was the only other team a defensive lineman led the team in tackles for loss.
When you think about how Georgia uses its linebackers, it makes sense that their defensive linemen traditionally clear the way for the likes of Roquan Smith, D’Andre Walker and others to make plays.
At some point though, Georgia is going to need its defensive line to consistently create negative plays. It had that last season thanks to Clark and his 8.5 tackles for loss. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Georgia had the nation’s best rushing defense and gave up only two rushing touchdowns all season when it had a very experienced and talented defensive line.
Georgia has that once again in 2020, but it doesn’t have Clark. Do those extra tackles for loss come from the likes of Herring, Walker and Davis? Or does Georgia simply ask its linebackers to make more negative plays on rushing downs?
If the answer is the former, Georgia once again should have one of the nation’s best defenses. But if the group can’t replicate and expand on Clark’s production, it’s fair to think the Georgia defense might see some regression.
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