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Jeff Sentell/Dawgnation
Which recruits along the Kirby Smart era have made some major contibutions to the team's unbeaten start?

UGA recruiting: Charting the most vital prospects (so far) of the Kirby Smart era

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The budget today calls for an overview of the recruiting work translating into on-field starts so far during the (brief) Kirby Smart era at Georgia. 

 

We spend a lot of time on these pages charting hope and potential. That’s why recruiting decides the DNA and ceiling of any program.

The point of this exercise is a little quality control by answering the following question: Which recruits during the Kirby Smart era have made the biggest impact so far this season?

The Bulldogs have already signed two great classes in 2016 and 2017. But which members of those recruiting cycles have made the biggest contributions to the team’s 7-0 start?

Great players lead to great teams. Georgia coach Kirby Smart even stressed this week how important the players are to any successful football program.

They are the “groceries” Bill Parcells referred to during his NFL tenure. Parcells had a great line about being the coach and comparing it to being the cook in a kitchen. The legendary NFL coach remarked that since he was the cook that maybe he’d also like to be the one shopping for the groceries, too.

That was both funny and true, but talent acquisition will not earn a Top 5 ranking all by itself.

Coaching, constant improvement and player development are also critical factors.  So does getting lucky with a walk-on or two and a transfer that seemingly dropped out of the Oklahoma sky.

I found it very interesting to take a look at the starts made by several members of the 2016 and the 2017 recruiting classes at UGA so far this year.

 

  • 2017: 15 starts by four Bulldogs
  • 2016: 36 starts by 10 Bulldogs

Of course, when we watch college football we also see the trend toward the veteran player. It is pretty simple. The 21-year-old guy who has been in the program for several years usually wins the physical battle with any hard-charging 18-year-old vying for his spot. Usually.

  • 2015: 40 starts by 10 Bulldogs
  • 2014: 44 starts by eight Bulldogs
  • 2013: 20 starts by three Bulldogs

This is a simplified evaluation method, but the new Georgia way shows the players who work the hardest to build the trust of the coaching staff to execute the game plan usually (depending on the personnel package) wind up starting each week.

Which Kirby Smart recruits have made the biggest on-field impact so far this season? Well, that was today’s charge. The name of the first Bulldog might surprise you.

  • 1. Redshirt sophomore safety J.R. Reed (7 starts)

JR Reed Interception UGA Tenn
Georgia defensive back J.R. Reed intercepts Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, September 30, 2017, in Knoxville. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Why Reed: He gets the nod here for the way he plays. Period. When we are talking the Smart era, that only means the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes.

Reed was a transfer from Tulsa who sat out the 2016 season. He watched and learned. He flashed on the scout team and got better every day.

Watch him now. He’s a sure tackler and a big reason why highly-rated freshmen DeAngelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte III have not gotten more reps in the secondary.

Reed has even hung with future Mr. All-Everything Roquan Smith this year in the tackle department. He ranks second on the team in tackles and has led the Bulldogs in tackles in two games this fall. Reed is also fourth on the team with his 3.5 tackles for losses.

Rating stuff: Reed was a 3-star prospect in the Class of 2014. The son of longtime NFL receiver Jake Reed was rated by the 247SportsComposite as the nation’s No. 157 CB prospect coming out of high school. Smart has even said the Bulldogs got very lucky with Reed and didn’t really know what they had other than a guy with some size who could run.

  • 2. Freshman QB Jake Fromm (6 starts)

Jake Fromm UGA-Tennessee
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm prepare to play Tennessee in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, September 30, 2017, in Knoxville. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Why Fromm: He was ready to play winning football at the game’s most important position. Pure and simple. Talented sophomore Jacob Eason was the starter heading into the year, but Fromm made it a competition through spring drills and fall camp and was ready to play.

Fromm subbed in for an injured Eason early against Appalachian State and basically never looked back. He currently has the highest QB rating in the SEC.

Rating stuff: Fromm was rated as the nation’s No. 3 Pro-Style QB and as the No. 44 overall prospect in 2017. He was a U.S. Army All-American and finished his career at Houston County as one of the top schoolboy passers in Georgia High School Association football history.

  • 3. Freshman OT Andrew Thomas (7 starts)

Why Thomas: He was a true freshman that was ready to come in and play right tackle among the rigors of the SEC. That’s grown-man stuff.

Andrew Thomas by Jeff Sentell 090217b
Andrew Thomas of Pace Academy, who committed to the University of Georgia, during the 2017 season. (Jeff Sentell/Dawgnation)

Thomas didn’t even report to UGA until June but the coaching staff at Pace Academy had prepared him well to earn a spot. The reports coming out of fall camp were that Thomas had performed well enough by the second week of camp that everyone knew he would play early and make a run at a starting spot.

If you recall, the one glaring need for UGA during Kirby Smart’s first class was at offensive tackle. The Bulldogs didn’t get what they needed there. Georgia signed three tackles in its 2017 class and Thomas has been the best of the bunch.

Rating stuff: Thomas, a 4-star prospect, was rated by the 247Sports Composite as the nation’s No. 9 OT and the No. 45 player overall in 2017. Why wasn’t he a 5-star? That’s a good question. Thomas was slowed by a slight shoulder injury at the Nike Opening in the summer before his senior year but had recovered in time to turn in dominating practices at the U.S. Army All-American event back in January.

  • 4. Senior WR Javon Wims (7 starts)

Why Wims: Have you seen Fromm’s freshman highlight tape? There is a lot of good work from both Wims and Terry Godwin on that. Wims was Georgia’s leading receiver in three games and he leads all Bulldogs with his 18 catches. He’s second on the team in yards (318) and touchdowns (2) this fall.

Missouri Georgia Football Javon Wims 2017
Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims (6) drives the ball down the field after pulling in a pass from quarterback Jake Fromm during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Athens, Ga. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Wims was a re-recruit for Smart and Georgia. Wims had been committed to the previous staff but decided he had a feeling about Smart’s future at UGA.

The Florida native was also a junior college signee from Hinds Community College in Mississippi. He filled a recruiting need for a big and physical receiver with ball skills.

Rating stuff: Wims was rated by the 247Sports Composite as the nation’s No 4 junior college receiver and as the No. 11 overall JUCO prospect for 2016.

  • 5. Sophomore DT Tyler Clark (4 starts)

Why Clark: It always starts up front and the fact that Clark has been able to make four starts and produce some impressive tape against big-name opponents stands out.

Georgia v Tennessee
Tyler Clark had another big game for Georgia on the road in Knoxville. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Clark started the first game of the season on the defensive line and has picked up 15 tackles. He’s also weathered a slight injury and returned to start two of the last three games. The sophomore continually flashes the ability to fight off blocks and go through some pretty good players that have lined up in front of him.

Rating stuff: Clark was rated as a 4-star recruit and as the nation’s No. 25 DT coming out of Americus-Sumter High School. He wasn’t one of the highest-rated DTs that UGA signed that year, but he has clearly been one of the most productive. The Bulldogs also had to work to retain his commitment after the transition to Smart’s staff in December of 206.

Honorable mentions: Sophomore QB Jacob Eason (13 starts in 2016 and 2017); Sophomore OG Solomon Kindley (4 starts); sophomore WR/KR Mecole Hardman Jr. (1 start); sophomore CB Tyrique McGhee (2 starts); sophomore TE Isaac Nauta (7 starts); Freshman ILB Monty Rice (1 start); Sophomore WR Riley Ridley (3 starts); Freshman RB D’Andre Swift (0 starts).

 

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed faster than Georgia All-American candidate Roquan Smith can find the football after the snap.

 

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