In 2018, Georgia played five players who went on to become first-round draft picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Playing in the SEC often puts the Bulldogs up against some of the best players in the country. Factor in that Georgia plays a Notre Dame team that went to the College Football Playoff a season ago, and Georgia will once again face some of college football’s top players during the 2019 season.
Below we’ve ranked the 10 best players Georgia figures to see during the 2019 regular season. If Georgia is going to achieve its goals this coming season, the Bulldogs will have to do their best to limit the impact of these players.
10. Bryce Thompson, DB Tennessee
Consider this a bit of a projection. Most fans may not be aware of Thompson given that the Volunteers went 5-7 in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season. But as a freshman, Thompson was able to haul in 3 interceptions. Factor in Pruitt and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley’s excellent reputations when it comes to defensive backs, and Thompson could go on to become one of the best defensive backs in the SEC.
Tennessee was the only game in which Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm did not throw a touchdown during the 2018 season, and he was even worse when the Bulldogs visited Tennessee in 2017. The Volunteers may not be a great team in 2019, but with Thompson in the secondary, Tennessee will not make things easy for Fromm.
9. CJ Henderson, CB Florida
Henderson earned a Second Team All-SEC nod from the coaches a season ago, as he finished with 2 interceptions to go along with 38 tackles and 3.0 sacks. Henderson, given Florida’s claim to ‘DBU’ will likely earn a lot of hype and attention at SEC Media Days in the coming weeks.
Given that Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham loves to blitz, he often puts his cornerbacks on an island. Being a cornerback in a Grantham defense isn’t the easiest job in the world but Henderson played well in that role in 2018. With more experience in Grantham’s system, he figures to have an even better 2019 season.
8. Ian Book, QB Notre Dame
Book took over at quarterback in the fourth game of Notre Dame’s 2018 season and proved to be an instant improvement over Brandon Wimbush. Book completed 68 percent of his passes a season ago, though his numbers took a dip beginning in the month of November.
The Notre Dame quarterback didn’t shine against Clemson in the College Football Playoffs in 2018, but most quarterbacks struggled against Clemson’s front. If Georgia can force Book into a similar performance in September, that could be a very strong sign for the Georgia defense.
7. Kalija Lipscomb, WR Vanderbilt
Lipscomb will be the first significant test for Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, or whoever ends up filling Deandre Baker’s shoes during the 2019 season. Despite finishing with 87 catches, 916 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in 2018, the Vanderbilt wide receiver had his worst game of the season against Baker and Georgia. He finished with only 2 catches for 16 yards.
Vanderbilt will be breaking in a new quarterback this season, but given some of the other talented skill players on Vanderbilt’s roster — such as tight end Jared Pickney — doubling Lipscomb likely won’t be an option. That will make Stokes’ job even more challenging when the two teams meet on Aug. 31.
6. Kellen Mond, QB Texas A&M
While Book is well-regarded for his accuracy, Mond is able to extend plays with his legs in a way few quarterbacks on Georgia’s 2019 schedule can. In his first season under Jimbo Fisher, Mond completed only 57 percent of his passes. But he threw for 24 touchdowns while also adding in 7 rushing touchdowns as well.
All three of Georgia’s losses in 2018 came against teams that had dual-threat quarterbacks. If Georgia wants to show that it’s an improved team from 2018, the Bulldogs will need to corral Mond and the Aggies when they visit Athens on Nov. 23.
5. Nick Coe, DE Auburn
Of the SEC pass rushers Georgia will face this year, Coe had the most sacks in 2018 as he finished with 7.5. Coe also missed two games last season, meaning his sack and tackles for loss numbers —13.5 — could’ve been even higher Auburn might have one of the best defensive lines in the country, and Coe’s pass rushing abilities are a key reason why.
Last season many said Auburn had one of the nation’s top defensive lines coming into the Georgia game. But the Georgia offensive line had no problem when it came to the run game, as the Bulldogs ran for 303 yards against the Tigers in a 27-10 win. Expect Coe and the Auburn defensive line to use the Auburn home crowd to its advantage when the two teams meet on Nov. 16.
4. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE Missouri
No SEC East offense gave Georgia more problems last season than Missouri. And while the Bulldogs did hold Drew Lock without a touchdown pass, the Tigers still racked up 29 points on the day. And massive tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was a big reason why.
Against Georgia, Okwuegbunam finished with 9 catches for 81 yards. He only played in 9 games a season ago, but still finished with 43 catches for 466 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also helps open holes in the Missouri ground game. New Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant isn’t the passer that Lock was, but having a target like Okwuegbunam will make life much easier when the Tigers visit Georgia on Nov. 9.
3. Julian Orkwawa, DE Notre Dame
No player Georgia will face in the 2019 regular season had more sacks last year than Orkwawa. The Notre Dame defensive end finished with 8.0 sacks a season ago. The now senior really turned things on at the end of the year, as he picked up a sack in each of Notre Dame’s last three games.
Orkwawa will have to do more for the Fighting Irish this season as Notre Dame saw defensive tackle Jerry Tillery get taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Orkwawa will also have to matchup with either Andrew Thomas at left tackle or Isaiah Wilson at right tackle when he plays against Georgia. Getting the best of either of Georgia’s standout tackles won’t be easy for any pass rusher, even one as good as Orkwawa.
2. Ke’shawn Vaughn, RB Vanderbilt
There were nine 1,000 yards rushers in the SEC in 2018. Three of them return for the 2019 season. Georgia running back D’Andre Swift is one of them and Missouri running back Larry Rountree is another. But the leading returning rusher in the SEC for the 2019 season is Vanderbilt’s Vaughn, who racked up 1,244 yards a season ago.
Vanderbilt has an impressive collection of skill players, but none of them may be as good as Vaughn. Vanderbilt does have to replace quarterback Kyle Shurmur, and whoever ends up starting will lean heavily on Vaughn to help out.
1. Derrick Brown, DT Auburn
In terms of pure talent, there isn’t a better player Georgia will see during the regular season than Brown. The Auburn defensive tackle could’ve declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and likely been a high draft pick. But Brown elected to return for his senior season and try and help Auburn rebound from an 8-5 season.
Brown was a Second Team All-SEC selection last season and will almost certainly be a First Team All-SEC selection at SEC Media Days. As a junior, he finished with 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season despite facing constant double teams on the interior of the defensive line.
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
NextCharlie Woerner: Time to shine has arrived for UGA tight end