Time to update the 85: Where Georgia stands heading into early signing period

Kirby Smart has the College Football Playoff to worry about and also must navigate the early signing period and its implications.

ATHENS – The Georgia football team does not publicize its scholarship numbers. This much, however, seems certain: It was right around the NCAA limit of 85 scholarships this season, which was good for the program but also could have implications in recruiting.

The team is expected to have room for about 24 signees this year, per the calculations of DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell. But that’s a separate number from the NCAA limit. The signing class is about the SEC’s signing rules, but those are too complicated to get into here.

The trick is how Georgia will fit those signees under the NCAA scholarship limit. It appears there will have to be attrition between now and the beginning of next summer, assuming all players who sign qualify academically. There also could be some issues as soon as January, depending on how many players enroll early and how many outgoing players leave the program immediately.

Here’s a look at the current scholarship commitments:

  • 17 outgoing seniors who were on scholarship. That doesn’t include three walk-ons who played prominent roles this year: punter Cam Nizialek, long snapper Trent Frix and fullback Christian Payne.
  • 19 juniors who were recruited to campus on scholarship: inside linebackers Roquan Smith, Natrez Patrick and Juwan Taylor; outside linebackers Keyon Brown and D’Andre Walker; defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter; defensive tackles Trenton Thompson and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle; cornerback Deandre Baker; safety Jarvis Wilson; defensive back Rashad Roundtree; center Lamont Gaillard; guard Kendall Baker; tackle D’Marcus Hayes; wide receivers Jayson Stanley, Terry Godwin, Ahkil Crumpton and Michael Chigbu; and tight end Jackson Harris.
  • 22 sophomores: ILB Tae Crowder; OLB Jaleel Laguins; DE David Marshall and Justin Young; DL Tyler Clark, Michael Carter and Julian Rochester; DT Michael Barnett; CB Tyrique McGhee; S J.R. Reed; offensive linemen Pat Allen and Sam Madden; WR Tyler Simmons, Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley; TE Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner; quarterback Jacob Eason; running backs Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield; punter Marshall Long; and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
  • 26 freshmen, including redshirts: ILB Nate McBride, Monty Rice and Jaden Hunter; OLB Robert Beal and Walter Grant; DL Malik Herring; DB Latavious Brini, Eric Stokes, Richard LeCounte,  Mark Webb, William Poole, Deangelo Gibbs, Ameer Speed and Tray Bishop; T Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson; G Justin Shaffer, Netori Johnson and Solomon Kindley; OL Chris Barnes and Ben Cleveland; WR J.J. Holloman, Trey Blount and Matt Landers; QB Jake Fromm; and RB D’Andre Swift

That adds up to a total of 84 scholarship players. Georgia began the preseason with 85, then Chauncey Manac left, opening up a scholarship for Blankenship, and during the season, Sage Hardin took a medical disqualification.

Check my math, everyone. But if it’s right, 17 outgoing seniors plus one newly available slot minus 24 incoming players (if that ends up being the number) means six extra players Georgia will have to cram into the NCAA-allowed scholarship slots.

Blankenship, it must be pointed out, was not assured anything beyond this season. That could come into play, although he’s certainly kicked well enough to deserve serious consideration for a scholarship.

The status of Brini, arrested on Tuesday on a felony forgery charge, would seem to be uncertain at this point, pending details of the arrest.

Roundtree did not practice in the latter part of the season because of unspecified injuries. It’s fair to wonder whether a medical DQ could be in his future. Receiver Shakenneth Williams, a senior, took one before this season for unspecified injuries.

Patrick just incurred what would appear to be his third strike of UGA’s marijuana policy, which would result in automatic dismissal from the team. But nothing has been confirmed by coach Kirby Smart or UGA yet.

There are also more than a few potential NFL draft entrants. Roquan Smith will be a prime candidate given how high he’s projected to be selected. Trenton Thompson indicated in a social media post he’s coming back, but several other players are believed to be mulling how high they will be picked.

From there, it’s easy to look at the depth chart and speculate who might look to further his career elsewhere. Eason’s name is the first to come up, and when he was asked about it after the SEC Championship Game, he said he is taking it “day by day.”

So there are plenty of moving parts. It’s unclear how much of this needs to be settled quickly. The general rule is a team can only be at 85 scholarships at a given time, so if a bunch of players enroll early, there needs to be room. That room could open when players leave early to prepare for the NFL rather than stay in school the spring semester.

First, there’s the little matter of the Rose Bowl and a potential National Championship Game. But coaches also have the Dec. 20-22 early signing period and its implications to navigate.

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