They always say – they being coaches, recruiting analysts, media members – that you can’t judge a football signing class until four or five years down the road. And even then, as you will see, there might be some debate.
As Georgia embarks on the Kirby Smart era, here’s a look back at the previous 15 years of recruiting classes at Georgia. It offers some insight and lessons into why Mark Richt was so successful early on, but also why he’s no longer at Georgia.
And, well, some of it just fun to look back on:
Best class (by ranking): 2002
Richt and his staff showed their recruiting chops in their first full recruiting cycle, finishing third nationally in the Rivals.com rankings. Of course it didn’t directly correlate to on the field: The headliner was five-star linebacker Marquis Elmore, who never started a game at Georgia, while the lowest-rated recruit was two-star cornerback Tim Jennings, who went on to a long NFL career.
Best class (in hindsight): 2001
Take heart, Smart and Georgia fans, you can do a lot even if the incoming head coach was away much of the time trying to win a national title. Richt joined the team full-time in early January and still managed to sign the following: David Pollack, Thomas Davis, D.J. Shockley, Odell Thurman, Greg Blue, Dennis Roland, along with plenty of others who contributed over the next few years as Georgia won two SEC championships and three division titles. Richt of course didn’t have to do all the work, as previous coach Jim Donnan and his staff had secured some of the commitments before their firing – much like Richt, Jeremy Pruitt and company laid the groundwork for the class Smart hopes to sign.
Worst class (by ranking): 2010
The class was hurt by the long wait between the firing of defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and the hiring of Todd Grantham. And unlike four years later, when a two-day DC search saw Pruitt replace Grantham, the new DC was someone coming from the NFL level, where he hadn’t recruited in 11 years. The result was a class that Rivals ranked 15th nationally. It did still end up having a star (linebacker Alec Ogletree), an eventual starting quarterback (three-star Hutson Mason) and several other long-time starters (defensive end Garrison Smith, offensive linemen Kolton Houston and Kenarious Gates, and receiver Michael Bennett.)
Worst class (in hindsight): 2013
This was the class that should have provided this past year’s juniors, instead only three members started more than half of Georgia’s games this past season. It doesn’t help that so many didn’t last with the program long. Three of the top four-ranked players (Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry and Shaq Wiggins) in this class are no longer with the program, while the other one, quarterback Brice Ramsey, has never started a game. At the time this class was ranked 12th nationally by the 247Sports Composite, among the lowest-ranked classes of the Richt era. It’s ended up faring even worse than that.
Biggest class: 2013
You sign 33 guys, the thinking went, and you increase the chances of finding a star. Turns out, you also increase the chance of heaping busts. Less than three years later, only 16 members of the class are still with the program. Here’s an in-depth look of where the members of the class are now.
Smallest class: 2012
Richt and his staff notoriously under-signed that year, only bringing in 19 players. Then three of its higher-rated members were dismissed (Josh Harvey-Clemons, Johnathan Taylor) or transferred (Sheldon Dawson). And despite all that it still ended up being a rather productive class: Ever heard of Todd Gurley, Jordan Jenkins, John Theus, Marshall Morgan and Greg Pyke? And just imagine if Keith Marshall hadn’t torn his ACL.
Class where star ratings should’ve been flipped: 2011
The so-called dream class takes potshots because five-star Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after a year, as was four-star Nick Marshall, while a few others didn’t quite live up to their potential. But look further down the 24-man class: Receiver Chris Conley, inside linebacker Ramik Wilson and center David Andrews were all three-stars, while inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera was a borderline four-star. All were starters, Wilson made first-team All-SEC as a junior, and all are in the NFL.
Most star-studded class: 2006
Five-star quarterback Matt Stafford and five-star safety Reshad Jones were joined by a slew of four-stars, including tailback Knowshon Moreno and defensive lineman Geno Atkins. But the class was “only” ranked fourth nationally by Rivals, behind USC, Florida and Florida State.
The verdict is still out: 2014 and 2015
Last year’s class was fifth nationally, and the 2014 class was eighth nationally. This past season 18 members of those two classes started at least two games, including six who started at least eight games or more. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Jeb Blazevich, Dominick Sanders and Malkom Parrish (all from the 2014 class), Terry Godwin, Trent Thompson, and Roquan Smith (2015 class) could all be stars. And so far the attrition rate has been low. It’s possible that Richt’s most productive classes will end up being his final two – only they’ll end up playing most of their careers for Smart.