While the ink is barely dry on letters of intent from Georgia's class of 2011, it's never too early for us to begin looking at the class of 2012, albeit in the least creepy manner possible. One position which should be interesting to follow for this class is the tailback group. 2011 saw one of the deepest groups of tailbacks in recent memory. Heck, there were 3 in the state of Texas alone who might well have been the #1 back in the country in some recruiting cycles. That's to say nothing of incoming Bulldog freshman (and EDSBS chillbro) Isaiah Crowell (or "Bro-well", if you will).
Crowell joins a rotation in flux in Athens. Caleb King has shown flashes of brilliance, but those have been interspersed with generous helpings of injury and off-field problems. Washaun Ealey has been suspended indefinitely from team activities, and may be in the midst of either an existential meltdown or a transfer. Boo Malcome showed a lot of promise in practice last season but has zero game experience. And Carlton Thomas just does not appear to be a feature back, despite Mike Bobo's helpful insistence on running him between the tackles at every available opportunity just so that he feels he's gotten a fair shot. In other words, while it's rarely safe to bet that a freshman will step in and seize any position on an SEC football team, Isaiah Crowell is close to being the least risky option at this point. Barring insurrection, pestilence, or a soccer game run amok, Bro-well, will see substantial playing time in 2011.
Which means, from a recruiting standpoint, that we have an interesting dilemma. In 2011 we'll almost certainly be playing 2 freshman tailbacks, Crowell and Malcome. So, 2012 tailbacks looking to come in and play early will have a hard time being convinced that Georgia is a place that can offer that kind of opportunity. At the same time, there's enough uncertainty in the set of backs on campus that we may very well need a tailback who can play immediately in 2012. It's a conundrum.
But it gets worse. Take a look at UGASports' helpful scholarship numbers chart, which shows (generally speaking) how many scholarships are available to be handed out in a given recruiting class. Georgia has 14 seniors in the class of 2011. So that's the base number of scholarships we can probably count on having at hand in 2012. Of course, there's always the risk that some guys will have to take medical disqualifications, transfer, or leave early for the NFL. But if you look at Georgia's juniors and redshirt sophomores as a group, you don't see a lot of guys who are sure thing NFL talents like Justin Houston and A.J. Green were this year. Sanders Commings and Cornelius Washington if they have sterling seasons, perhaps. But nobody who's guaranteed to go pro early.
Since we took 24 players who count toward 2011, we still have 1 slot left over from that class, unless that scholarship is given to a walk-on who would still be on the team in 2012. But the numbers just don't lie. Bottomline, it's hard to imagine Georgia's 2012 class being larger than 20 players. The numbers are gonna be tight. Tighter than in 2011. And tighter still given that Georgia will likely be getting Lonnie Outlaw and Jalen Fields back from Georgia Military College. We've also already got a commitment from a desperately needed specialist, Marshall Morgan, and wide receiver C.J. Curry. The numbers just keep shrinking.
That means that the coaches have to be very careful about the offers that they give out. Which brings us back to the 2012 tailbacks. Rangers100 pointed out in a fanpost yesterday afternoon that Alabama has already gotten commitments from 2 Georgia tailbacks for the class of 2012, Kenyan Drake of Hillgrove HS and Justin Taylor of Booker T. Washington HS. Georgia had offered Drake but was recruiting him to play receiver, and the Bulldog coaches had not offered Taylor at all. I've seen a little video on Taylor and don't exactly understand why 'Bama took his commitment this early. I'd rank him as the 4th best tailback in the state of Georgia behind Drake, recent Florida commit Mike Davis, and Columbia HS bruiser Kenno Loyal. As the recent recruiting curfuffle over in Tuscaloosa indicates, it's no real secret who Alabama's top tailback target is. It's Barry Sanders, Jr. then everyone else in the cold, cold heart of the Armani Bear.
Georgia likewise is looking outside the state for a 2012 tailback. The top target for the Bulldog coaching staff in this class is Raleigh, NC (Millbrook HS) standout Keith Marshall. Marshall is a versatile back with great vision and instincts who reminds me a good bit of Caleb King as a junior (before the broken leg his senior year which really hampered him even into his college career). He's 5'11, 190 pounds, and his GPA (4.1) isn't that far removed from his 40 time (4.4). Take a gander:
Who will we have to beat out for Marshall's signature? Everyone. He already has offers from the likes of Florida, Alabama, Notre Dame, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Southern Cal, Florida State and Clemson. But make no mistake, the Bulldog coaches have made Marshall a priority, even giving him a birthday serenade. If we land only one tailback in 2012 and that tailback is Keith Marshall, it's been a successful recruiting cycle at that position.
If Marshall escapes, the Bulldogs' options look a little hazy. Georgia is among a gaggle of teams recruiting Rushel Shell, a powerful back out of Pennsylvania. Shell may be the most complete tailback in this class and Georgia jumped on him quickly. But we just don't have a lot of success recruiting in Pennsylvania, and probably haven't since we snagged one Joseph Peter Tereshinski out of Glen Lyon (that's a joke, we also got a pretty decent back out of Elliotsburg a few years back). Georgia also recently offered Daphne, AL athlete T.J. Yeldon, who could play either tailback or safety in college. It's generally tough to sneak good players from the Gulf Coast into Georgia without them stopping in Auburn or Tallahassee, however. Also don't expect Georgia to give up on recent Florida commit Matt Jones, who some thought was actually leaning toward Georgia until his surprise commitment foloowing a visit to Gainesville. I personally don't believe his recruitment is over, especially if the early returns on the Muschamp/Wies regime are not promising.
And Georgia may yet sign an instate tailback this season. Kenno Loyal, mentioned above, is a real possibility, though right now he seems to be leaning more toward Tennessee and Georgia Tech, where he would likely play the B back position. Loyal, like Shell, is a thickly built, Musa Smith-type back (only with a much lower center of gravity). But he has surprising speed through the hole and is even a fair punter, as you can see in this highlight video. The 'Dawgs may also take a look at Central Gwinnett tailback George Morris, who has an early offer from Illinois and is as good a receiver out of the backfield as you'll see.
Ultimately, a lot depends on how things shake out with the guys already in Athens. Assuming that both Thomas and Ealey come back for their respective senior seasons we would still have 4 scholarship tailbacks in 2012, and if Crowell and Malcome emerge as we hope they will, we'll have a solid tandem for 2013 as well. Tailbacks get injured in the SEC, so a bullpen full of quality runners is a must. As a result, Georgia is bound to take at least 1 in the 2012 class. And since the spring evaluation period will soon begin and summer camps will follow swiftly on the heels of the evaluation period, there's an excellent chance that Georgia will be recruiting, and eventually signing, a tailback not discussed in this post. Such is the magic of recruiting.
Until later . . .