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Joshua L. Jones / Special
Georgia coach Kirby Smart will be smiling pretty big if the Class of 2017 wraps up like this on National Signing Day.

Sentell’s Intel: The latest class projections on defense for 2017 at UGA

Want a daily lap through Georgia football recruiting? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this 4-star or 5-star might lean and add a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.
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I’m pretty much a bright-side guy. Likely always will be.

That’s why I tabbed Monday and Tuesday to roll out the latest Georgia mock signing class for 2017. These projections — and the results are trending to be the best class in a decade — might be a pinch of aloe to soothe the pain of that bee sting to Georgia Tech.

DawgNation gave its forecast for the 2017 signees on offense on Monday. That led to 12 projections that Georgia will sign for the Class of 2017 on that side of the ball. The Bulldogs already have 16 commitments for this signing class so that wasn’t too difficult. At this time, I only see two more players on offense coming on board between now and National Signing Day.

Sure, there’s a chance for a Cam Akers here, a Nico Collins there or maybe just a Walker Little but it would take a colossal optimist to point those guys towards Athens right now. There’s still a lot of work to be done for those signatures.

Who will fill out the class on defense? That’s a loaded question because DawgNation still feels that UGA will sign 27-28 players in this class. That number depends on several factors but largely the number of guys that will declare early entry for the NFL Draft.

For those doing the math, those 16 current pledges equate to a situation where 9 of the next 11 most likely commitments to Georgia will be on the defensive side of the ball. That’s a very interesting trend.

This is the latest projection for 2017 based on everything I’ve heard up to this point.

* indicates current commit

** indicates commitment who plans on being an early enrollee

*** indicates an undecided prospect who plans on being an early enrollee

Defensive tackle (2)

4-star Aubrey Solomon, Nation’s No. 4 DT, Leesburg, Ga.

Aubrey Solomon (right) had made it clear that his mother Sabrina Caldwell (left) will play an integral role in shaping his college decision. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Aubrey Solomon (right) had made it clear that his mother Sabrina Caldwell (left) will play an integral role in shaping his college decision. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

This seems like an interesting way to lead off with these projections. Solomon is a trench monster that will for sure wreak havoc on the interior line. He fits into the mold of those Southwest Georgia defensive tackles like Tyler Clark and Trent Thompson.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder is just going to take a minute to figure out where he’s heading. He’s expected to take his decision well past National Signing Day and will also seriously consider Alabama, Clemson and Michigan. At least.

He’s already taken his officials to Alabama and Clemson. That seems to be a significant matter for a prospect who seems to elevate the school that is the freshest in his mind. The home state feel, his relationships with the current team and Georgia Director of Personnel Jonas Jennings will be key factors here.

That should still be enough in the end. But this might be the toughest Bulldog to sign in the class.

Potential early impact: There’s no need to go into detail here. Solomon can make every bit of the same splash that freshman standouts David Marshall and Julian Rochester did this season. He’s the highest-rated defensive tackle prospect this side of Texas for 2017 and that makes him even more valuable. This is a down year for elite defensive tackles, but Solomon would be a Top 10 talent even in a boom year at his position.

*3-star Devonte Wyatt, Nation’s No. 29 DT, Decatur, Ga.

This is clearly a prospect to look past the rankings here. Kirby Smart and company got Wyatt to flip from South Carolina because they felt he was the second-best defensive tackle in the state this year behind Solomon. Wyatt’s ratings aren’t what they should be because he didn’t hit the camp circuit and is underexposed

Wyatt lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and running back for Towers High School this fall. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Wyatt lined up at defensive end, defensive tackle and running back for Towers High School this fall. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

The latest 247Sports evaluation seems right in line with his worth. That site bumped him up to the No. 10 DT in the class this year and that seems just about right. The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder has rare athleticism at this position. Georgia is always going to stock the defensive line with elite players in every class and Wyatt is definitely a find for 2017.

Potential early impact: Have you seen all those highlights yet where Wyatt lines up at tailback? He can do that because his coaches rave about his 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash. The big defensive tackle even ran the sprints for his high school track team last spring and got an interesting start in doing so while wearing a pair of Nike Air Force 1s basketball shoes. He still clocked a time in the 11-second range.

Current projected class count: 14

Other big names to watch here: None. Yet expect a new name to emerge here if Georgia somehow realizes by Feb. 1 that Solomon has made an abrupt change of plans.

Defensive end (3)

*4-star Robert Beal, Nation’s No. 4 weak-side DE, Suwanee, Ga.

Beal has been committed to UGA since July and took a few official visits but has never wavered. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder transferred to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season but is now back at Peachtree Ridge. He will no longer be able to enroll early. The safe player projection for him is current Georgia OLB Lorenzo Carter. Both prepped at Norcross High and their games mirror one another on several levels.

Potential early impact: It is worth nothing here that Beal will be an OLB in the “Jack” position at UGA and his versatility will allow him to chase guys and stay on the field for three downs to help defend spread offenses. It is likely very confusing, but Beal is classified here because that’s the position his ratings have been applied to by the major recruiting services.

He’s a pass-rush threat and that’s one area that UGA definitely needs an upgrade with the Class of 2017.

4-star Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant, Nation’s No. 13 weak-side DE, Cordele, Ga.

Bryant's hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Bryant’s hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Go ahead and apply the same rankings logic used for Beal here. “Big Cat” will also be a twitchy player who will line up on the edge at Georgia, but he’s classified as a linebacker with all of his recruiting rankings. Bryant has yet to make his decision, but schools like Auburn, Clemson and Florida will also be in play.

There are still a lot of very strong reasons to project him to UGA. Look for this decision to go into January and very likely all the way up to National Signing Day. Bryant’s offer sheet took offer right around the time of the Rising Seniors game last December. His Crisp County team is still unbeaten with a 13-0 record and is alive in the GHSA state semifinals this week against Cedar Grove.

Potential early impact: The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder has the size and length and skill that the Bulldogs want at this position going forward. He’s still very raw at OLB, but look for UGA to use him quickly in his college career.

4-star Malik Herring, Nation’s No. 5 strong-side DE, Forsyth, Ga.

4-star DE prospects Malik Herring (left) and Robert Beal Jr. (right) watch UGA warm up prior to the Auburn game at Sanford Stadium. Beal has committed to UGA. Herring has the Bulldogs as one of his top schools. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
4-star DE prospects Malik Herring (left) and Robert Beal Jr. (right) watch UGA warm up prior to the Auburn game at Sanford Stadium. Beal has committed to UGA. Herring has the Bulldogs as one of his top schools. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

When Herring eventually makes his decision, this prediction views it as a decision DawgNation has been waiting on for quite some time. He openly showed his affection for UGA at prospect camps over the last year and is often found wearing the same Georgia ball cap.

Alabama and Clemson are still seen as Georgia’s biggest rivals here. Herring — in contrast to Beal and Bryant — is a true hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He’s expected to make his decision sometime over the next two months.

Potential early impact: The nearly 6-foot-4 and 255-pounder will need some polish when he gets to Athens, but he should hit the field first as a situational pass rusher. That’s his biggest strength at this time.

Current projected class count: 17

Other big names to watch here: None. Don’t get too wrapped up in recent 5-star de-commit Joshua Kaindoh taking an official visit to UGA this weekend just yet. While Beal has been working on his IMG roommate for Georgia for quite some time, I still view it as a fun visit and a first initial look at Athens for the time being.

Inside linebacker (3)

4-star Nate McBride, Nation’s No. 1 ILB, Vidalia, Ga.

4-star UGA target Nate McBride (far right) posed with several of his Vidalia HS teammates after his final game. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
4-star UGA target Nate McBride (far right) posed with several of his Vidalia HS teammates after his final game. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

McBride passes the eye test right away at this position. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder can throw up 400 pounds on the bench press and has been timed in the 100 meters at 10.6 seconds. Those are out-of-this-world measurables for this position. He’s also the son of a long-time high school assistant coach on the defensive side of the ball.

McBride plans to take his final two official visits to Auburn and UGA sometime over the next month. His Auburn official is slated for Dec. 9. His final group will be Auburn, Oregon and UGA. Look for the Bulldogs to maintain the edge they’ve held for about two seasons here.

This decision will likely be made by the U.S. Army All-American game. It could come earlier than that, but it doesn’t seem like it will go past that point.

Potential early impact: Is he a true downhill ILB yet? Probably not. But he will learn those skills in Athens. He’s also going to find his way on the field a lot lined up against spread teams because of his straight-line speed and strength. He’s also going to be an asset early in his career on special teams in coverage as he rises up the depth chart at linebacker.

***3-star Monty Rice, Nation’s No. 21 ILB, Huntsville, Ala.

DawgNation is projecting Alabama 3-star ILB to choose UGA over Auburn later this month. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
DawgNation is projecting Alabama 3-star ILB to choose UGA over Auburn later this month. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Rice is a guy that fits the true prototype at ILB in Georgia’s odd defensive front. The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder was best described by his high school coach as a football player that’s also an athlete. That’s in contrast to other standouts that are essentially great athletes first but do not immediately take to all the finer points necessary of playing the game the right way.

Rice has two official visits planned. That’s to UGA this weekend and then to Auburn the following week. He’ll have his decision made by mid-December and will enroll early. Wade Waldrop, his high school coach at James Clemens in Alabama, told DawgNation recently just why Georgia should be seen as the clear favorite with his decision.

Potential early impact: Rice is a guy that might initially be seen as a redshirt candidate because of that low ranking, but that should be discounted. He’s the type of player that will do whatever it takes to work his way up the depth chart. He’ll also enroll early and that gives him a great shot to provide quality depth at the ILB spot during his true freshman season. Georgia’s a bit thin there after looking past the current first-team options at that position. The Bulldogs also only signed one true ILB last year.

4-star Leonard Warner III, Nation’s No. 8 ILB, Snellville, Ga.

Warner just seemed quite content to be in Athens every Saturday during the season. He’s going to take his official visit to UGA in the next two weeks and also set up another official visit to Stanford. He’s already taken an official visit to Florida State. Georgia Tech is another strong contender here.

The nearly 6-foot-4 and 230-pounder could play inside or outside linebacker at Georgia. I’d look for him to make his decision sometime in 2016 rather than 2017. He simply needs to take a look at Stanford to properly weigh all his options.

He told DawgNation once that he was torn by what seemed like an easy decision to choose Georgia. In the end, I think he’ll go with what seems to be the most logical choice in his mind all around.

Potential early impact: Warner is a fantastic student. He’s been told by the coaches at UGA that he has the skills and mindset to be a team leader early on in his career. He’ll follow in the footsteps of the last great ILB from Brookwood (Rennie Curran) to play in Athens.

Current projected class count: 20

Other big names to watch here: I had Lanier High’s Tyler Taylor on my previous projection, but simply do not feel as strongly about him signing with UGA as I did previously. It just seems like other teams and working hard for Taylor than the Bulldogs are at this time. It seems to me that Georgia will need to use that scholarship elsewhere at another position.

Outside linebacker (2)

*4-star Walter Grant, Nation’s No. 14 OLB, Cairo, Ga. 

Cairo senior OLB Walter Grant is one of UGA's most important recruiting targets for 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Cairo senior OLB Walter Grant is one of UGA’s most important recruiting targets for 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Grant chose UGA over Alabama earlier this month. He’s seen his recruiting rankings rise considerably since the spring. The 6-foot-4, 236-pounder shut down his recruiting after he committed to Georgia after the final regular season home game for the Syrupmakers.

Potential early impact: He has an 81-inch wingspan and is a sure tackler. He’s the type of player who can cross-train at several positions and see the field fast at Georgia. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see whim at ILB, OLB and at DE early on in his career. A lot of recruits are hyped up to say they can possibly play all three of those three positions but he’s a guy that can actually pull it off. He’s easily one of the 10 most important recruits in the 2017 class in my estimation.

*4-star Jaden Hunter, Nation’s No. 10 OLB, Cairo, Ga. 

There’s a lot to like about Jaden Hunter. The double legacy recruit and the son of the late Brice Hunter is one of those Swiss Army knife linebackers that Georgia is now going after. He’s been one of the program’s most loyal commitments and active recruiters since pledging to UGA way back in January.

Hunter could play either ILB or OLB in Athens. (Michael Carvell/ AJC)
Hunter could play either ILB or OLB in Athens. (Michael Carvell/ AJC)

I think that a lot of fans might forget about everything he can do rushing the passer and dropping into coverage because he’s been committed to the team for so long. This was a great early get for Georgia and Hunter has certainly displayed that during a playoff run at Westlake High School. His Lions are in the state semifinals in Georgia’s Class 7A this week.

Potential early impact: Hunter will likely cross-train at both LB spots in Athens. He’ll need to put on some weight but that’s one thing that college athletes seem to be able to do in short order with a quality nutrition program.

Current projected class count: 22

Other big names to watch here:  None

Cornerback (2)

*4-star William Poole III, Nation’s No. 23 CB, Atlanta, Ga. 

Poole — much like Hunter — has been committed to UGA for so long it seems like the fan base has forgotten just how big of a get he was back in April. The 5-foot-11, 185-ponder committed to Smart and the staff on G-Day and hasn’t looked back since.

Poole brings length and strength to the cornerback position at UGA. (Jeff Sentell / AJC
Poole brings length and strength to the cornerback position at UGA. (Jeff Sentell / AJC

He’s another UGA commit that’s a part of a contending playoff team that’s still alive in the GHSA state football playoffs.

Potential early impact: Hapeville Charter coach Winston Gordon told DawgNation earlier this month that Poole’s size and tenacity and skills at playing man coverage at cornerback could make him a Day 1 starter in Athens.

Gordon is well-respected across the state and he’s sent a lot of big-time players to college football. Poole is also going to work on the practice field to do everything he can to back up his coach’s words there.

He can bench press 225 pounds more than 15 times in one sitting. That would be a pretty solid feat for any cornerback at the college level. Poole has also played a lot at safety this year for Hapeville Charter.

3-star Eric Stokes, Jr. Nation’s No. 62 CB, Covington, Ga. 

Stokes just recently picked up an offer from UGA and I feel that the program will eventually earn his commitment. He just started playing cornerback full-time at Eastside High this year and that’s one reason why his ranking might be so low. He’s very raw, but Stokes is a rare athlete. He can run the 100 meters in 10.4 seconds and won the GHSA state championship in this distance last spring.

Look for Eric Stokes to be the fastest man in UGA's Class of 2017 in Athens. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Look for Eric Stokes to be the fastest man in UGA’s Class of 2017 in Athens. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He will look to take official visits to UGA, Louisville, Ole Miss and West Virginia at least. Don’t look for him to make his decision anytime soon. While he sounds like he feels very comfortable at UGA, he told DawgNation this week that he’s not expecting to make his decision until National Signing Day.

Potential early impact: The 6-foot, 170-pounder would be a redshirt candidate at UGA because he’s so new to the position, but his upside and that rare speed would make him the fastest man in the Class of 2017 at Georgia.

Current projected class count: 24

Other big names to watch here:  Look for former Miami commit Chris Henderson to take an official visit to UGA. The same goes for 5-star FSU commitment Stanford Samuels III and former UGA commit Latavious Brini. Let’s also not forget about Grayson 4-star dynamo (and USC commit) Jamyest Williams in this discussion, too.

But I’m not expecting any of those guys to eventually sign with UGA at this time.

Safety (3)

4-star Tray Bishop, Nation’s No. 4 ATH, Dawson, Ga. 

Bishop is currently committed to Auburn so this prediction might catch a few eyes. But the reality here is that the 4-star athlete continues to take trips to Athens since he made that pledge to Auburn. He’s very close to several of Georgia’s 2017 commitments and I think he will eventually decide to play for Smart and coach Mel Tucker in his home state.

Bishop is rated as the nation's No. 4 athlete for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Bishop is rated as the nation’s No. 4 athlete for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder could also get looks at receiver but the thinking here is he will eventually be a safety at the college level.

Potential early impact: Bishop has size, speed and length. He could play right away in the secondary at Georgia. If he does flip to Georgia, the incoming talent at safety for Georgia will be talked about as the nation’s top group of freshman signees in 2017. Bishop is rated among the nation’s Top 150 players in this year’s signing class.

***4-star DeAngelo Gibbs, Nation’s No. 3 S, Loganville, Ga. 

UGA fans desperately hope to see Gibbs land here. I still think that’s the case despite some strong interest in an alternate path for him at Alabama. I now see the Crimson Tide as the biggest contender for Gibbs down the home stretch.

His decision will be ridiculously complicated over the next three weeks. The dead period looms on Dec. 11 and Gibbs will likely play in the state championship game for Grayson along that previous weekend. He still hopes to take all of his official visits, but he might run out of time for those.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder is the highest-rated undecided prospect in Georgia for the Class of 2017. He’s taken more visits to Athens than any other school. He tweeted out after the Auburn game that Athens was a special place. I project that he will still be saying that in January. He could even make his decision before he takes part in the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 1.

Potential early impact: Gibbs could play anywhere he wants to at Georgia. That’s at cornerback, safety or at wide receiver.

**5-star Richard LeCounte III, Nation’s No. 2 S, Riceboro, Ga. 

What’s left to say here? LeCounte was Smart’s first commitment in Athens. He’s also the highest-rated

5-star Georgia commitment Richard LeCounte III shares a laugh with DeAngelo Gibbs prior to the Auburn game on Saturday. Gibbs is the sate's top uncommitted prospect in the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
5-star Georgia commitment Richard LeCounte III shares a laugh with DeAngelo Gibbs prior to the Auburn game on Saturday. Gibbs is the sate’s top uncommitted prospect in the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

commitment in this class and has been the program’s most active recruiter. I’d probably say he’s more likely to be in Athens in January than Kirby Smart is. That statement should reflect just how committed he is to Georgia.

Potential early impact: LeCounte will enroll in January and immediately put in the work necessary to land on special teams and crack the 2-deep at safety at Georgia.

He’s one of six finalists for the U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year honor. That’s the award Georgia freshman Jacob Eason won last year to signify his status as the nation’s top player for 2017.

I’m not breaking any limbs here by nothing that he should have a truly memorable career in Athens.

 

Current projected class count: 27

Other big names to watch here:  None. Those three names are quite enough.

 

 

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Follow Jeff Sentell on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.

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