Georgia football: Top 5 rising seniors heading into next season

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Wide receiver Terry Godwin (5) is one of Georgia football's five best rising seniors.

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Top Dawgs: Rising seniors

We continue to plug along in our “Way-Too-Early Look at 2018” series with a breakdown of the top 5 rising seniors on Georgia’s roster. There’s a definite drop in star power from the 2017 senior class to the 2018 class. There are no players with the profile of a Nick Chubb, Sony Michel or even Lorenzo Carter in this group. Instead, what’s exciting about the 2018 senior class is the potential. All five of the players listed below played major roles for the Dawgs last season, but none seem to have reached their full potential yet. An offseason worth of work could help them do that and cement them as leaders of a team that is trying to repeat the magic of 2017.

This will wrap up our posts about the best players in each class, but it won’t end our early look ahead to 2018. Check the end of this section for links to posts about the top juniors, sophomores and redshirt freshmen as well as the other posts in this series.

Let’s go.

  • D’Andre Walker, OLB — Walker has the potential to be the breakout Bulldogs player of 2018. Although overshadowed by Carter and Davin Bellamy for his entire career, Walker is set to be a star for Georgia’s defense in 2018. He racked up 13 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks last season as a backup, second on the team in both categories. With increased snaps, we could see those numbers jump and another Bulldogs OLB taken early in the 2019 NFL draft.
  • Lamont Gaillard, C — Gaillard has jumped from defensive line to guard to center since arriving at UGA in 2014, each move suiting him more than the last. He finally has found a home at center and formed a strong partnership with Jake Fromm. He’ll enter next season as one of the best interior linemen in the SEC and the leader of the Georgia line.
  • Jonathan Ledbetter, DE — It has been a joy to watch Ledbetter improve and mature during his three years in Athens. He was one of the most highly touted members of the 2015 recruiting class, but a quiet freshman season and a DUI the summer after had many wondering if he’d ever live up to that billing. Two years later, he’s one of the emotional leaders of the Georgia defense and arguably the top returning defensive linemen. The most exciting part about Ledbetter’s senior season is that, according to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, his best football is still ahead of him.
  • Terry Godwin, WR — Godwin arrived at Georgia as the most-hyped receiver recruit since A.J. Green, but it didn’t take long for some folks to label him a bust. And he did not set the world on fire as freshman or sophomore. He had 35 catches for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman and 38 catches for 397 yards and no touchdowns as a sophomore. Still, he took a huge step forward as a junior. Godwin once again had 38 catches but turned those into 639 yards and 6 touchdowns, moving his yards per catch average from 10.4 as a sophomore to 16.8 as a junior. With Fromm going into his second season and fewer experienced tailbacks to work with, the passing game could open up more, giving Godwin more opportunities to make spectacular plays like this. Godwin may not go down as the Georgia great many had envisioned for him when he signed, but he surely won’t go down as a bust either.
  • Deandre Baker, CB — True shutdown cornerbacks only come around once in a blue moon. Georgia fans have to go back a decade to Tim Jennings to find the last one, and then almost another decade to Champ Bailey for the next. Well, there’s another blue moon rising over Athens, because Baker is a shutdown corner. His decision to return for his senior season is a major boost for the Georgia defense. The secondary will have to break in a lot of newcomers, so senior leadership will be crucial. While there might be questions about how those guys will perform, there are no such questions about Baker. His side of the field is closed to all opposing quarterbacks.  And if those talented youngsters follow his lead, we shouldn’t have to wait a decade for another shutdown corner.

A Way-Too-Early Look at 2018: Schedule breakdown | Top 10 players | Early enrollee rankings | Top redshirt freshmen | Top rising sophomores | Top rising juniors

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Deangelo Gibbs not enrolled for the spring semester

On Friday, I briefly noted an update from Seth Emerson of DawgNation about Deangelo Gibbs, who was not with the team throughout most of the postseason. On Saturday, Emerson reported that Gibbs is not enrolled at UGA for the spring semester, bringing his status as a member of the 2018 squad further into question. From Emerson:

Gibbs’ status going forward with the team is unclear. He was not with the team during the latter portion of the season, tending to what was termed a “medical issue” by the team.

The news means Gibbs almost certainly will not be with the team for spring practice or participate in G-Day, barring something unforeseen. It was also not clear whether Gibbs was still in Athens or somewhere else.

Former Georgia Southern head coach joins Kirby Smart’s staff

It seems Kirby Smart has hired his longtime friend and former Georgia Southern coach Tyson Summers to a position on the Georgia football staff. Summers was fired by Southern in late October after opening the season 0-6, following up a 5-7 performance in his first season at the helm. Although nothing is official at this time, it seems Summers will work in an off-field capacity and not fill the still-vacant slot for a 10th on-field assistant coach. From Emerson:

Summers was at Calhoun High School on Thursday night recruiting for UGA, Calhoun coach Hal Lamb confirmed Friday morning. It appears Summers is joining in a quality control, off-field role, but he was on the road Thursday night in a recruiting role.

Georgia has yet to fill the newly allowed 10th assistant coaching spot, so until then, the team is allowed to send somebody on the road to fill that role in a recruiting capacity. Jay Valai, who had been a quality control coach at UGA, was among those also recruiting this month before accepting a similar role with the Kansas City Chiefs.

There was no immediate confirmation from UGA on the hiring of Summers, a native of Tifton who will turn 38 in April. Summers could not be immediately reached for comment. It’s not clear how long Summers has been working for UGA.

Recounting the top 10 moments of 2017 season

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