Sentell’s Intel: What to make of Georgia’s lost commitment

Dixon (right) is rated as the nation's No. 11 inside linebacker for the Class of 2017.

Want a daily tour through all things recruiting in relation to Georgia football? That’s what the Intel hopes to bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this four-star or that five-star might be leaning with a dab of perspective thrown in along the way. 

Well, Breon Dixon.

The former baseball player threw another curveball. When the four-star linebacker did the “d-word” on Sunday afternoon it was the second time he blasted the recruiting world on its blind side with big news.

The first of those haymakers last December in his commitment to Georgia on Christmas Day. He was the second verbal for the Class of 2017 for the new Kirby Smart era.

This story has many layers. First, it comes as a shock that a player who was so certain in his decision he chose to commit to the in-state school on Christmas Day while gathered around close friends and family.

Dixon — who was still at Peachtree Ridge — felt so strongly about Georgia and the new staff he committed approximately two weeks after Smart was hired. Smart seemed to like his skill set a lot more than the previous staff did. Dixon didn’t have a Georgia offer before he arrived.

Dixon committed to Georgia on Christmas Day. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Dixon is an undersized linebacker, but a thumper. He’s right at six feet tall and 220 pounds. The Grayson senior will strike the ball carrier but is more of a hybrid of the elements SEC teams want to see in their safeties and linebackers. The former baseball player is still rated as the nation’s No. 11 prospect at inside linebacker this year.

He would have been able to play down in the box to stop the run while facing up-tempo and spread offenses.

But something changed. What happened? Well, Dixon’s tweet on Sunday shared the notion he wouldn’t be taking interview requests for the time being. So that leaves only the realm of informed speculation to ponder what might have happened. That is never the best route so we will tread lightly on that front.

One thing is for certain 

Somebody fell out of love to spark the de-commitment. That sentiment might even apply to both parties.

The common theory floating around involves a logjam of options at linebacker. DawgNation has heard all spring and summer from recruits that Georgia plans to sign at least five or six linebackers in this class.

Dixon’s decision means that Westlake senior and UGA legacy Jaden Hunter is the only commitment now at linebacker for Georgia’s Class of 2017. (Let’s not forget about Robert Beal in the midst of this. Beal, another UGA commit, is rated as a five-star defensive end but is expected to initially fit in better at outside linebacker.)

Did other schools swoop in and start recruiting Dixon harder? Did another school (like a Miami or TCU) turn his head? Did Georgia back off its pursuit of Dixon to chase other top-rated linebackers who were a better fit? Did too many other linebackers express they were getting ready to commit and Georgia needed more room at the inn? (Not likely. But that’s what the Georgia optimists would like to think.)

Those are all good points. I think the safest answer is Dixon made an early decision eight months ago and he now sees his decision differently than he did right Smart got the Georgia job.

Dixon shared something in his statement with that tweet that stood out. I think it is the most important line regarding Dixon and Georgia going forward.

“UGA will remain high on my list if they continue to recruit me,” Dixon said. 

Lots of options at LB

Georgia looks at its linebackers in a unique way under Smart and first-year defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Think Swiss Army knives or Oscar winners.

They want them to be able to handle a lot of diverse roles and adjust swiftly on the hop. Cover backs and tight ends? Come downhill and fill gaps? Rush the passer off the edge? Play smart assignment football?

Hunter could play either ILB or OLB in Athens. (Michael Carvell/ AJC)

Those are givens, but another common denominator would be the skills to play outside or inside linebacker from down to down and in certain personnel packages. Playing defense in the SEC means getting used to the nickel formation about 75 percent of the time. At least.

When offenses want to play fast, those guys can stay on the field because they are strong in the box against the run, can rush the passer and can also play winning football in coverage.

Another bonus is either elite speed, range or length. Or all of the above.

Here’s a quick rundown at linebacker and the players Georgia appears to be in very good shape with. We’ll define the term “good shape” as a prospect the Bulldogs are likely sitting among the Top 3 options for (at least) at this time.

4-star ILB Gary Johnson (Dodge City Community College/ Birmingham, Ala. ) — The nation’s No. 1 junior college ILB gets lost in the wash since he’s in the junior college ranks and also committed to Alabama. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder knows Smart and Tucker well and has visited Georgia since his commitment to the Tide. The Bulldogs are still among his top schools and should at least garner an official visit. This guy plays very fast. 

McBride’s lowest laser time in the 100 meters was at 10.5 seconds. He will be running back and linebacker again this fall. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

4-star ILB Nate McBride (Vidalia High School /Vidalia, Ga) — The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 2 prospect at ILB. He has elite speed and could also play at OLB in a pinch even if he doesn’t have a lot of film and game reps doing that to this point. His rare speed and skills place him at the top the board for Georgia at ILB for 2017. 

4-star ILB Leonard Warner III (Brookwood High School/ Lawrenceville, Ga.) — The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 8 prospect at ILB. Versatility and length are his strengths. He could play either inside or outside or at defensive end on Saturdays. DawgNation projects his decision will cause a lot of other dominoes to fall on the Georgia board at this position. 

4-star ILB Kenney “KJ” Britt (Oxford High School /Oxford, Ala.) — The 6-foot, 232-pounder is a true downhill inside linebacker who will light up opponents. He’s woefully underrated (as the nation’s No. 15 ILB) and might be Georgia’s best true fit at inside linebacker in this class. He was recognized at the Nike Atlanta Opening regional and at the Opening in Oregon for his ability. Britt made the All-Defensive first team at the Opening and was also tabbed as the Top LB in camp at the Atlanta regional. 

4-star ILB Tyler Taylor (Lanier / Sugar Hill, Ga.) — The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is rated as the nation’s No. 11 ILB for 2017. He could also play inside or outside, but the best fit for him would be at inside linebacker. 

3-star ILB Monty Rice (James Clemens/ Huntsville, Ala.) — The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder told SEC Country weeks ago Georgia was his leader. He’s rated as the nation’s No. 22 prospect at ILB. He’s also considering Auburn, Florida and LSU but Georgia has been recruiting him the hardest for awhile. Rice also would fare well at OLB in certain schemes, too. 

COMMIT: 4-star OLB Jaden Hunter (Westlake / Atlanta, Ga.)  — Hunter could definitely play either inside or outside linebacker in the SEC. He’s currently rated as the nation’s No. 11 OLB for 2017. He is a UGA double legacy and his commitment should be seen as very solid going forward.

Bryant’s hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

4-star DE Markaviest Bryant (Crisp County / Cordele, Ga. ) — Bryant ranks as the nation’s No. 11 defensive end and while he could play inside, his best spot would be on the edge. His length, size and athleticism are his biggest selling points. 

3-star OLB Walter Grant (Cairo / Cairo, Ga.) — The 6-foot-4, 236-pounder is extremely versatile and DawgNation’s pick as the most adaptable linebacker at defensive end, inside linebacker and outside linebacker among this group. Needless to say, his three-star ranking as the nation’s No. 22 prospect at OLB does not do him justice. 

That’s a roll call of nine linebackers right there, but be sure to include Beal among that lot. There’s also at least eight of those players who could flex to fill at least two positions on the Georgia defense in certain personnel packages.

That’s 10 primary options at linebacker. Be sure to recall there are only five or six slots to fill at that spot for the 2017 class. That’s why linebacker will be the most fluid position on the board going forward with this year’s class.

The week ahead 

This week sets up as a big one for Georgia on the recruiting front with another story that involves a four-star recruit at Grayson High. The Rams will play host to national power IMG Academy out of Florida before a national ESPN2 television audience on Aug. 27.

The latest USA Today Super 25 has pegged that showdown as the nation’s No. 2 team (Grayson) taking on the No. 4 squad from IMG.

Dixon and Williams are teammates at Grayson High School. They were also teammates at the Rising Senior game last December. (Joshua L. Jones. / Special)

That’s the main event from Loganville but four-star cornerback Jamyest Williams will also make his commitment about four hours prior to that tilt. The Athens native is rated as the nation’s No. 57 overall prospect for 2017. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder ranks as the No. 6 player in Georgia this year and eighth overall among the nation’s cornerbacks.

The 247Sports Crystal Ball has South Carolina leading the way with 83 percent of the 36 predictions regarding his decision. The Gamecocks have picked up almost all of those picks over the last six weeks.

His other finalists are Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee.

Beal will also be on the field that night for IMG. He transferred to play for the Ascenders after spending the first three seasons of his prep career at Norcross.

 

 

 

 

Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.

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