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Jeff Sentell / AJC
UGA commits Richard LeCounte (left) and Toneil Carter (right) have had big senior seasons up to this point. Both play to enroll early in December.

Sentell’s Intel: Which Georgia commits are living up to the hype?

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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Recruiting is largely about potential and projections. That’s why an accomplished player might not have the offers his peers do despite an overwhelming advantage in stats.

The stellar prep career of Pierce County quarterback Stetson Bennett IV illustrates that point. Bennett (who will enhance the job security of the coaches who eventually sign him) has thrown for 2,409 yards in 8 games. The senior has completed 63 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He gets the ball out quick, makes the right reads and delivers the ball so his guys can rip off big yards after the catch.

Bennett was a consistently strong performer at the Nike “The Opening” regionals across the South this year. I saw him compete at three different sites and know that he went to a few more. He was very good. It was like he brought the phrase “somebody will get a steal” along with his suitcase for every trip.

He logged more than 4,000 miles and always had the signature denim U.S. Postal Service cap at every event. It fit just like that lid did. The kid was that reliable.

Yet college coaches mostly ignore stats unless they are otherworldly. That’s where his 171-pound frame stands out more than his game. He’s right at the 6-foot mark and that limits the big-time offers. Recruiters look at the steam he puts on his passes, his touch but will also fret about his throwing lanes in a tight pocket with much taller linemen on both sides of the ball.

He’s rated as a 2-star prospect and the nation’s No. 101 pro-style passer. His offer sheet includes an Ivy League school (Columbia) plus Mercer, Georgia Southern and Middle Tennessee.  I feel Bennett will be a highly-productive college player in the right system, but he’s not going to get the SEC sniffs even if he had 4,000 yards right now and doubled his average of 19 completions per game.

That doesn’t prevent me from appreciating his game. I’ll let his mid-season highlights speak for themselves. Check out the second clip of his mid-year film. It is gold.

But his example serves as a perfect illustration. There are always a few Bennetts every season who produce far beyond the projection of the college coaches.

There are also players on SEC commitment lists who have more busts than big plays. They miss more blocks than they should or don’t command a double team every down.

The SEC commits are the guys who project to the big time with all the “eye test” checks imaginable. Yet they can’t dominate when placed on a high school field among those who won’t play a down of big-time college football. That’s a huge red flag.

The ideal situation is a marriage of potential and production. Fans should find the big-time gets on their school’s commitment board contending for a state player of the year honor. Especially at a program that recruits like Georgia.

There are several great examples for UGA in this year’s class. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for DawgNation would be that three of the most dominating seasons up to this point have been delivered by their January mid-year enrollees.

Richard LeCounte III > Advertised

LeCounte is Georgia’s highest-rated commitment and should be on the list. He leaves no doubt about it. Just take a look at his most recent game and try to remember the three tackles he makes along the highlight reel are made by the nation’s No. 1 safety.

That hasn’t kept the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from looking like a linebacker against Long County. The plays LeCounte made look like something ripped from a movie set where he’s exacting vengeance on somebody who said something bad about his family.

Remember “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” from the 1980s? Well, LeCounte vs. Long County looks like an audition tape for the modern remake. Somebody must have bashed up his jeep prior to the big rivalry game.

LeCounte also has two touchdown catches in the above clip. He’s got a shot at making his fourth All-State team later this season.

Georgia’s only 5-star commitment has 23 catches for 436 yards and 9 touchdowns. That’s an average of 19 yards per catch. He’s also averaging 40 yards per kickoff return and 21 yards per punt return. He’s only been able to return 11 kicks this year but has scored on two kickoff returns and one of his punt returns.

But the obvious meal ticket for LeCounte on Saturday will be on defense. He’s recording an average of 7.5 tackles per game. The Liberty County (Hinesville, Ga.) star also has two interceptions and transformed one of those into a Pick-6 for his 13th touchdown this year.

He’s got 60 solo tackles (46 solo) plus 6 tackles for losses, 2 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced and a sack. His senior year highlights deliver on all those checkmarks and also include his signature style. It looks like he’s having way too much fun.

LeCounte has played in eight games for a 7-1 team so far and he’s produced almost six minutes worth of highlights. That’s exactly what the highest-rated commitment on Georgia’s board should be doing.

Jake Fromm is still chasing state records

The Stetson Bennett IV example also exemplifies why Jake Fromm is a country mile past just merely being legit on the field.

Fromm has put up better numbers than Bennett while also competing in Class AAAAAA ball. The nation’s No. 4 pro-style passer has glowing stats but also checks off everything recruiters want to see in the projections category, too.

The nearly 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has thrown for 3,206 yards in eight games. The average Fromm night has meant 24 completions for 400 yards and 4.4 touchdowns. He’s thrown 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions this year.

Fromm flipped to Alabama to UGA. The big reason? Kirby Smart. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Fromm flipped to Alabama to UGA. The big reason? Kirby Smart. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He doesn’t have much of a running game and yet has still completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing it an average of 40 times per game. Fromm recently became only the second quarterback in Georgia high school football history to throw more 12,000 career yards. He only trails Clemson Heisman Trophy candidate DeShaun Watson (13,077) in that category. He needs to average 518 passing yards per game to catch him during the regular season.

That’s one of the reasons why it has been an interesting year for Fromm and his Bears. Houston County was ranked No. 1 to begin the year and he came out on a pace to set every state record. But all the fireworks masked key personnel issues on defense.

The Bears have dropped their last two games in region play and are in danger of missing the playoffs. Houston County plays in one of the state’s toughest regions with Coffee County, Lee County, Warner Robins and Valdosta and must now win out to have a chance at the postseason.

The 4-star prospect threw four of those interceptions at Lee County under constant duress. He lined up without his starting center in a clash with one of the state’s toughest fronts. The patchwork across the line shifted 4-star SEC prospect Trey Hill to center but that meant a freshman has now seen a lot of time at tackle in his stead.

The reigning Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year has thrown for 110 career touchdowns. That also places him No. 2 all-time behind Watson. An interesting footnote is that Fromm will likely have played in 10 fewer high school games than the Clemson All-American.

 

RB commit Toneil Carter has 14 TDs this month

Toniel Carter, the No. 7 RB in America, committed to UGA in July at The Opening in Oregon. The 4-star prospect had a slow start to the year while recovering from a sprained knee.

His knee has looked fantastic in October. Carter (Langham Creek/ Houston, Tex.) has scored 14 touchdowns this month, including a 5-TD game last Friday that saw him also click off 282 yards.

RELATED: Carter’s inspiring success story has meant running past serious adversity

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has 123 carries for 982 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in 2016. He’s surged of late after starting out the season with game totals of 90, 43, 64 and 74 yards. He’s responded in October with big games of 150, 154, 125 and 282 yards.

 

 

D’Andre Swift = Electric

This is the part of this summation where it makes sense to issue the standard disclaimer. Stats and highlight reels are easy to find at the prep level for quarterbacks and running backs. The key thing to note for Georgia’s future touchdown machines is that all of those guys are doing what they should and then performing at a level beyond that.

Pennsylvania 4-star D’Andre Swift has been hurt for stretches of his senior season, but when he’s been full-go he’s lived up to the billing as the nation’s No. 4 RB. He opened the year with a monster game in California right after he committed to Georgia.

He scored four touchdowns in his season debut but suffered through knee and ankle ills until returning to full strength last weekend with a 7-TD performance against a key rival.

Here’s another montage of his day. Check out the Deion Sanders high steps along one of his runs.

His big game is believed to have set a school record for touchdowns. Swift also averaged 14.9 yards per carry on the way to his 269 rushing yards.

The 5-foot-9, 215-pounder won’t be able to enroll early but he’s already given DawgNation a big taste of what’s to come.

Robert Beal’s year so far

Beal might be the antithesis of this debate. He’s ranked as a 5-star by ESPN and seen as the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect by that service. The 247Sports Composite has him as a 4-star recruit and rated him as the nation’s No. 3 weak-side defensive end and the No. 39 overall recruit.

IMG senior Robert Beal is rated as the nation's No. 3 weak-side DE for the Class of 2017. (Photo provided by IMG Academy)
IMG senior Robert Beal is rated as the nation’s No. 3 weak-side DE for the Class of 2017. (Photo provided by IMG Academy)

He told DawgNation earlier this year his senior year hasn’t lived up to his expectations and his stats through the first four games bear that out. While he plays on a stacked defense chock-full of prospects, he had just 4 solo tackles through his first four reported games. That equated to an average of only 3.5 tackles per night.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder also had just one tackle for a loss, zero sacks and three quarterback hurries.

But it looks like the alarm clock went off last week for an ESPU game against Trinity Christian. Beal then went off with an interception, a sack and picked up a few more tackles behind the line. He was able to return that interception for a score.

Checking out the other UGA commits so far in 2017

There’s not a lot of hype for 4-star receiver Trey Blount and yet his 2016 highlight reel shows off his expertise running the drag route and being able to help out his quarterback with what every offense works on when they practice the scramble drill.

Blount has a lot of touchdowns. That’s also given him the chance to take his signature bended knee in prayer when he reaches the end zone. He’s also played some defensive end for defending state champion Pace Academy and came up with some sacks, too.

He already had a lengthy five-plus minute highlight reel for 2016 before he even began playing games in October.

Matt Landers — a 3-star commit at receiver for 2017 — has also had a few highlights. Landers is pretty raw as he’s only played about 2.5 seasons of varsity ball up to this point.

He’s got 21 receptions for 399 yards through seven games in 2016. His size and length are evident below in this clip from one of his 4 touchdowns this fall.

A pair of OLs doing their thing

Allow me to read a few minds here. Yada yada yada. More big plays by skill guys. We’ve seen this before. The Bulldogs have always been able to find the offensive talent we’ve displayed in this recap up to this point.

The difference in this year’s class must be in the trenches. Don’t believe it? Just go back to the offensive linemen Georgia signed the year it brought in All-American tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

How many big-timers did they get? One. That was 4-star OL Isaiah Wynn. Wynn was the only Top 10 lineman UGA signed in 2014. He’s also been the only one to establish himself as a mainstay starter up to this point of his junior season.

Dyshon Sims — another 4-star signee that year — has just one career start at UGA up to this point. UGA only signed four OLs that year and one of those guys is no longer with the program. Lamont Galliard was another key starter coming out of that class, but he signed as a 4-star defensive tackle.

How does that happen? Especially considering the Southeast’s top OLs that year had the chance to block for Chubb and Michel plus a pair of established big-timers like Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. What’s just as perplexing is that the Bulldogs only signed one big-time OL (John Theus) and three total OL prospects in the 2012 class that featured Gurley and Marshall.

That’s an obvious recruiting gap. Those classes failed to prioritize the line of scrimmage. When the legitimate reasons for Georgia’s underachieving seasons are presented, that slight must be mentioned.

Will this year be different? Check out the clips from a pair of 2017 offensive linemen commits. Both Netori Johnson and Andrew Thomas are ranked among the nation’s Top 10 prospects at their respective positions.

Check out the agility Johnson brings to the field.


Thomas will be counted on to contribute immediately to provide depth at tackle

 

Last but not least

I had to wait until this portion of the blog to discuss the 2016 season of 3-star DL commitment Devonte Wyatt. He’s definitely not hyped up and would fall into the “hidden gem” department.

The nearly 6-foot-4 talent weighs in at 295 pounds and never went around the recruiting showcase circuit. That’s a good reason why he’s only regarded as the nation’s No. 45 DT prospect but shows tremendous upside every week on film.

He’s raw but talented on the line. Yet he also has the athleticism to line up at running back of all spots. His Towers High coaches swear up and down he can crack the 4.7-second mark in the 40-yard dash. He’s had lot of highlight carries this year, but check out his work at defensive PLUS his most recent work lined up as an I-formation tailback.

He takes the ball on a toss sweep about 1:10 into the following clip that will leaver everyone scratching your eyes. Notice how the would-be tacklers definitely went low to get him on the ground.


 

 

 

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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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