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A deeper dive into Georgia football recruiting efforts in the metro Atlanta area
Since Kirby Smart took over as Georgia’s head coach in December of 2015 and including the 2021 class, the state of Georgia has produced 202 blue-chip recruits, which are defined as 4 or 5-star prospects using the 247Sports Composite database.
Of those recruits, 118 —58 percent — of them have come from nine counties that make up the metro Atlanta area, defined as the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, Clayton, Coweta, Douglas, Fayette and Henry per the Georgia State of Tourism website.
On average the metro Atlanta area produces more blue-chip recruits than the likes of Alabama, Louisiana and Ohio. Alvin Kamara, Derrick Brown and the Atlanta Falcons’ 2020 first-round pick AJ Terrell all came from the area. It is one of the best recruiting areas in the country from both a high-end and volume standpoint.
But in recent seasons Georgia is relying less and less on the Atlanta area to add to its recruiting haul, even as it continues to sign elite recruiting classes. In the 2019 and 2020 cycles, Georgia signed just five prospects from the area and just one of the 10 5-star prospects. Over that same time span, Clemson and Tennessee have also signed five prospects with Alabama landing six.
So should Georgia be doing a better job recruiting the metro Atlanta area, or is it just too unrealistic to expect one school to dominate the area? Does Georgia need to re-prioritize how it recruits the area?
The numbers show that Georgia, over Smart’s tenure, has actually done the best job of any college program in terms of recruiting the area. But a handful of schools are making not insignificant strides. And there’s one county in particular that Georgia has repeatedly come up short in. And it happens to be the one that produces more blue-chip recruits than any other in the Atlanta area.
It’s more metro Atlanta than the whole state
When comparing the blue-chip recruits that come from the metro Atlanta area to that of the rest of the state, the data shows that Georgia has done a much better job recruiting the elite prospects from outside the Atlanta area as opposed to those hugging Interstate-285.
Georgia has landed 21 blue-chip signees from the metro Atlanta area since Smart’s first signing class in 2016. That makes up just over 20 percent of all blue-chip recruits from the area.
The rest of the state of Georgia has had 84 prospects ranked as blue-chip recruits. The Bulldogs and Smart have signed or received commitments from 29 of those prospects, good for 34.5 percent of all non-Atlanta area prospects.
In this cycle, the metro Atlanta recruits have also made commitments sooner than some of their counterparts. For this cycle, there are 28 total blue-chip prospects in the state. Of the 15 blue-chip prospects from the metro Atlanta area, 12 have already committed. For the rest of the state, only six of those prospects have committed.
The 2021 class perhaps best illustrates how Georgia has gone about recruiting the state of Georgia in recent seasons. The Bulldogs have only one commitment from a metro Atlanta prospect, 4-star defensive lineman Jonathan Jefferson. But Georgia has commitments from three blue-chip prospects who all come from outside the metro Atlanta area, including 5-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff.
That means that while Georgia has missed out on some of those elite Atlanta prospects, such as linebacker Barrett Carter and cornerback Jordan Hancock, a number of the best players in the state, such as 5-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims and 4-star wide receiver Deion Colzie, are still available for the Bulldogs to land.
A closer look at Gwinnett County
Of the 202 blue-chip prospects Georgia has produced over the past five years, 42 have come from Gwinnett County. The county produces the most blue-chips in the entire state and is one of the top talent producers in the entire country.
And in Smart’s time as the head coach at Georgia, he’s landed just three blue-chip recruits from the area, with the last being Warren Ericson in the 2018 signing class. So when people complain about Georgia’s recruiting efforts in the Atlanta area, they’re most likely wondering why the Bulldogs haven’t done a better job recruiting Georgia’s top county.
The 2021 class once again illustrates Georgia’s struggles in this part of the state. The top three players in Gwinnett County also double as the top three players in the metro Atlanta area. And all of them have already committed to playing outside of the state. Carter and Hancock, teammates at Suwanee, Ga.’s North Gwinnett High School committed to Clemson. Those two both play at positions of need for Georgia in this cycle.
Speaking before his decision, Carter said that Georgia was a finalist in part because it was the hometown team. But Carter still ended up picking the Tigers, who are only about 30 minutes farther away. While being the local team does often gives Georgia a foot in the door, it’s usually not enough on its own to convince one of the country’s best prospects that it is the best place for his future.
Related: What Barrett Carter’s decision means for Georgia and where the Bulldogs go next in 2021 recruiting
Then there’s running back Cody Brown. He stars for Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga as he rushed for 1,676 yards in his junior season. While Georgia wants to take two running backs in this class, Brown committed to Tennessee earlier in May. Georgia already has one commitment in the cycle from running back Lovasea Carroll, originally from Warrenton, Ga., before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida. The Bulldogs are also well-positioned with Donovan Edwards, a running back from West Bloomfield, Mich., who is a higher rated prospect than Brown.
In recent cycles Georgia has shown it has no problem looking outside of the Peach State to land top talent. The last cycle saw Georgia bring in Kendall Milton from Clovis, Calif. In the 2018 cycle, Georgia went to North Carolina for Zamir White and Miami for James Cook. The 2017 cycle saw them land D’Andre Swift from Philadelphia.
Given that Georgia is ‘RBU’ and can use that brand nationally, it’s probably not a coincidence that Elijah Holyfield is the only metro Atlanta running back Georgia has signed since Smart has taken over.
Of the six blue-chip prospects from Gwinnett in the 2021 cycle, all of them are already committed to schools other than Georgia. And each of them will play for team’s Georgia will see on its 2021 schedule in Clemson, Tennessee and Florida.
The 5-star level
Gwinnett currently doesn’t have any 5-star prospects for this recruiting class, but the 2019 class saw the country produce five 5-star prospects. And all five of them elected to play their college football outside of the state.
Across the rest of the metro Atlanta area though, the Bulldogs have done much better at attracting the 5-star prospects. The Bulldogs have gone into Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb and Henry counties to land a 5-star prospect. Gwinnett is the only county that has produced a 5-star prospect that Smart hasn’t landed at least one from dating back to the 2016 cycle.
But while the Bulldogs may not have landed the likes of an Arik Gilbert or an Owen Pappoe, they’ve more often than not shown they can recover and land an elite prospect from outside this footprint.