It is way too early to start talking about the Class of 2017, right?Anyone who carries that attitude will not last long as a recruiter in the SEC. That approach will get a coach lapped in the race for the elite talent that will sign next February. UGA coach Kirby Smart visited a lot of big-name juniors across the state in January at the same time he was focusing down the stretch for the Class of 2016. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called 50 top juniors on National Signing Day alone. Do the math. That’s like four contacts per hour for 12 hours. UGA 5-star commit Richard LeCounte III has already been calling these guys since December. We’ll just focus on a handful of 10 uncommitted elite prospects who have shown legitimate interest in UGA for the time being. This is DawgNation’s first UGA priority list for the Class of 2017.
DawgNation’s top UGA targets for 2017
1. 5-star CB/WR DeAngelo Gibbs, Grayson High School (Loganville, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 200 poundsRankings: Nation’s No. 2 corner and No. 9 player overallOffers: 33Why: Gibbs has two uncles that played 12-plus seasons in the NFL. That’s the NFL bloodline and he projects to either a shutdown corner or a No. 1 receiver in big-time college football. Class of 2017 UGA commit Breon Dixon is a great friend and fellow 5-star Richard LeCounte III is the only player in the state that belongs in the discussion with Gibbs as the state’s best for 2017.
2. 4-star LB Nate McBride, Vidalia High School (Vidalia, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 225 poundsRankings: No. 4 OLB and No. 43 overall Offers: 16Why: McBride’s rankings dipped a bit because he missed last season with injuries to both hands after he fell asleep on the way home from a grueling practice and struck a tree with his vehicle. Look for his stock to skyrocket this spring and summer when he’s back at full strength. McBride flashes elite quickness for a running back, let alone at linebacker. He’s already set school records in the 100 and 200 meters. Lots of SEC running backs would like to trade for his 10.69 time in the 100. That said, he’s a physical and instinctive player who shows on film why he’s the son of a long-time defensive coordinator, too. He was very impressed when UGA hired Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt. McBride’s decision should come down to UGA and Alabama, but he should be rated as a 5-star prospect before that happens.
3. 4-star OT Andrew Thomas, Pace Academy (Atlanta, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-5, 295 poundsRankings: No. 15 OT and No. 93 overallOffers: 22Why: Did you hear Kirby Smart’s press conference after signing Day? If not, then he stressed that offensive tackle is a big need. Thomas would be a huge get at tackle and he’s a little bit more polished than others in the state at his position. He’s also very coachable and realizes that he’s a Georgia boy. He told DawgNation back in October that UGA will always be a top school for him. This ranking will be a bit high given his overall scouting grade, but he’s at this spot because UGA really needs an athlete at this position compared to other areas of the depth chart. UGA didn’t address the offensive tackle spot with this week’s class. That’s why landing a player like Thomas means more to this class than another defensive back or running back.
4. 4-star OT Tony Gray, Central Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 285 poundsRankings: No. 16 OT and No. 97 overallOffers: 21Why: We’ll reinforce the previous statement from the No. 4 target. Offensive tackles. Big deal. Got it? Good. Gray fits the bill because UGA has already been over to see him quite a lot with the new staff. Auburn is also after him hard and this is another in-state product that offensive line coach Sam Pittman has to lock down at a true position of need. Brunswick offensive tackle D’antne Demery is another name to know and he might have a higher ceiling than Gray because of his overall physical package and athleticism, but Gray has more polish right now. That said, it should not be seen as a one-or-the-other thing with these guys. UGA needs to sign all three for 2017.
5. 4-star QB Jake Bentley, Opelika (Opelika, Ala.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 215 poundsRankings: No. 4 pro-style QB and No. 83 player overallOffers: 16Why: He’s got all the physical tools and a sharp sense of the game. That’s expected for a coach’s kid. Bentley is the son of long-time high school coach Bobby Bentley who spent the last two years as an analyst on the Auburn staff. He’s now with Will Muschamp at South Carolina. Bentley has UGA in his upper tier and his decision could come down to UGA and Stanford. The quarterback spot is a glaring need for the 2017 class despite the hype surrounding 5-star freshman Jacob Eason. There needs to be quality depth at that position beyond Eason for 2017 and beyond. UGA should sign two quarterbacks with this year’s class.
6. 4-star CB William Poole, Hapeville Charter High School (Atlanta, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 180 poundsClass ranking: No. 11 CB and No. 94 overallOffers: 39 offersWhy: Poole is another prospect who has already taken a hard look at UGA. He even told DawgNation earlier this year that his choice would likely come down to UGA or Florida. He’s also been impressed by the talent on its way to UGA. Look for his decision to be wrapped up sooner rather than later. Poole was the first junior that Smart visited when he hit the road for UGA after wrapping up his duties as the defensive coordinator at Alabama. That made an impression. Smart considers him to be the top cornerback on the board.
7. 4-star ATH Jamyest Williams, Archer (Lawrenceville, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 170 pounds
Rankings: No. 5 ATH, No. 51 player overallOffers: 42Why: Just a pure football player. Period. Williams was a dynamic tailback and a lockdown cornerback for Archer last fall. Everyone knocks his height, but he’s shown over and over and over he can erase taller defenders off the highlight film in camps and big games. He has all the intangibles a coach could ever ask for. LeCounte III has already lived up to his rep as a relentless recruiter with him, but this recruitment should be fluid. Look for him to make his decision sometime in his senior year. He grew up in Athens so the big question for him will be does he want to come home or does he want to spread his wings with his college choice? Clemson and Florida State are also high on his list, too.
8. 4-star DE Malik Herring, Mary Persons (Forsyth, Ga.)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 265 poundsRankings: No. 6 weak-side DE and No. 137 overallOffers: 18Why: Herring is one of those talents who plays and performs in practice a lot better than his ranking. He always sought out the top offensive linemen for his work in drills in one-on-ones. He gave intense effort through every practice rep at the Rising Seniors in December but was also quick to acknowledge his opponent no matter the outcome. He’s also very close to UGA 2017 commit Jaden Hunter. He really likes what UGA has going right now with Smart and it appears Herring is a special talent for the defensive line and should be seen as a must-sign for UGA.
9. 4-star RB Anthony McFarland, Jr., DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 189 poundsRankings: No. 2 all-purpose RB and No. 30 overall Offers: 26Why: McFarland visited UGA last fall with his family and felt chills being in Sanford Stadium in a great atmosphere. He’s more of a slot receiver and running back hybrid given his rating at the all-purpose back spot. He has incredible agility and overall quickness and was one of the top performers at UGA’s “Dawg Night” all-star camp last July. He’s always held UGA in high regard and look for the staff to make him another out-of-state priority.
10. 4-star RB Toneil Carter, Langham Creek (Houston, Tex.)
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 205 poundsRankings: No. 2 RB and No. 32 overall Offers: 18Why: Carter told reporters at the Under Armour Future 50 that he would have signed with UGA if his Signing Day was imminent. That was before he knew UGA lost Thomas Brown to Miami. That said, he still holds UGA in very high regard and the new staff should make him a priority early in this cycle if it no longer sees distance as an obstacle with the right players. Look for UGA to sign two backs in this class. He’s got great speed and ability and is driven to excel.
Other names to know:
- 4-star DE/OLB Marquez Bembry (Atlanta, Ga.)
- 3-star OT Case Cook (Carrollton, Ga.)
- 4-star WR Nico Collins (Pinson, Ala.)
- 4-star ATH Deejay Dallas (Brunswick, Ga.)
- 4-star OT D’antne Demery (Brunswick, Ga.)
- 4-star OG Netori Johnson (Ellenwood, Ga.)
- 4-star DT Aubrey Solomon (Leesburg, Ga.)
- 4-star WR Shawn Smith (Brunswick, Ga.)
- 4-star DT Tyrone Truesdell (Augusta, Ga.)
- 4-star LB Leonard Warner (Snellville, Ga.)
- 4-star DE M.J. Webb (Madison, Ga.)
- 4-star CB LeAnthony Williams, Jr., (Roswell, Ga.)
Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.Follow @JeffSentell_