Signing Day is like the birth of a child -cheers, thankfulness, photos & tears of joy but the real work has just begun. Let's get it #Fam15— John Lilly (@JohnLillyUGA) February 5, 2015
As usual, the story of Georgia's national signing day was the guys who did not make dramatic last minute announcements. Trenton Thompson is, according to many, atop the list of high school players in the country. He signed his letter of intent and faxed it before 10:00 a.m. this morning, broke for what I can only assume was a huge breakfast, and then was up the road in Montezuma to take in Roquan Smith's ceremony.
If Thompson had announced his decision in a big ceremony at Westover High at noon today, the national news would be awash with the story of Mark Richt's Signing Day coup. The fact that Thompson chose Georgia months ago shouldn't diminish the importance of his commitment. My colleague Bud Elliott wrote a great analysis piece sometime back in which he talked about the "blue-chip ratio" that seems to be a prerequisite for winning college football's top prize. Every year we hear from people who say "but so-and-so was a two star prospect and he was a Super Bowl MVP/All-American!" Sure, I'll give you that.
But rest assured, if I sign class after class of five star prospects and you sign class after class of two and three star prospects, I will beat the brakes off of you every single game. The fact that you can find an exception does not disprove the rule. Sure, there are those who go into cancer remission after living off a diet of sassafras leaves rather than chemotherapy. There are people who land airplanes after the pilot has a heart attack despite never having flown before in their lives. Theoretically it's all possible. It's just not probable. Not every four and five star prospect pans out, but if (like Nick Saban) you sign 25 of them every year enough will pan out for you to annually field a really good football team. It gives you the luxury of being wrong more often.
If we are asking simply, as Bud did, "did Georgia sign a majority of players who would meet the blue-chip criteria?", the answer is yes. Of Georgia's 28 scholarship signees (I am excluding walk on/transfer players Jake Ganus, Rodrigo Blankenship, and Nick Robinson), 15 were rated four or five stars by the 247Sports rankings. This is my preferred rankings index because I find that it squares more often with my personal evaluation of recruits, but your mileage may vary. But I digress. Based solely on that criteria, Georgia signed a lot of guys who have the potential to be really good college football players. But as Coach Lilly notes, the time to turn that potential into reality is now.
Looking at specific position groupings the news is also good. Georgia generally got players where it needed players. After losing a large number of players to transfers and dismissals in the past few months, Georgia largely replenished at secondary. The better news is that several of those players look to have real potential. Rico McGraw is as good a big, physical corner as Georgia had any expectation of signing.
Juwuan Briscoe looks to me like exactly what Jeremy Pruitt has said he is seeking in a cornerback. He is big, physical, has great ball skills, and enough speed to hang with SEC receivers. I really think we may have gotten a steal with this kid. Rashad Roundtree however isn't sneaking up on anyone. He arrives at the ball in a hurry and in a really bad mood. While his coverage skills are going to need work, Roundtree is among the players in this class who're likely to see some early action if they stay healthy and start to absorb the scheme over the summer.
The offensive line is incredibly difficult to recruit, in my belief the most difficult position group on the field to evaluate. You just do not know how guys will develop physically or mentally. That being said, I am fairly certain that Sam Madden is not going to shrink. He is still going to be a really big dude when he arrives in Athens. I am also fairly confident that Pat Allen is only going to improve as a tackle with solid coaching. Anyone who saw him camping in Athens over the summer will tell you that he has the competitive fire needed to play in the SEC.
Sage Hardin is a guy who could play any position along the offensive line, and I would expect that he will get a look at guard and probably center. He will not play this year, but he does not need to. In fact, with guys like Aulden Bynum, Josh Cardiello, Isaiah Wynn, and Dyshon Sims waiting in the wings, Hardin probably does not have to make a huge contribution in 2016, either. For the last three classes Georgia has finally begun building some perennial depth on the offensive line, and I could not be happier about it.
Of course, the story of the 2015 recruiting cycle was the rash of commitments, decommitments, and derecommitments which struck almost every team in college football. In the grand scheme of things, Georgia came out okay on this. While the Bulldogs did lose receivers Van Jefferson and Darius Slayton, and believe me that really hurt, they did reel Pat Allen and Shaquery Wilson back in after defections, while also picking up McGraw from Alabama. I once heard Rodney Garner say that verbal commitments are only good for telling everyone else who they need to recruit against. He was absolutely right, and it's no coincidence that Garner's current employer closed very strong today. They did a great job of telling recruits what they needed to. In the future, one wonders whether Mark Richt and his coaches might once again ask some guys to keep things a little more quiet until a little closer to National Signing Day.
If there is one area about which I could nitpick in this class it would be the receivers. Sadly, Shaq Wilson is not as good a wide receiver as either Van Jefferson or Darius Slayton. Both of those guys had the potential to play meaningful snaps as true freshmen in Athens. Jefferson in my estimation is likely to start as a freshman at Ole Miss. He likely would have done the same in Athens. Say what you will about his decommitment, from my perspective Jefferson let our coaches know he was reconsidering, announced his decision weeks ahead of national signing day, and ultimately stuck with the Rebels once he said that's where he was going. I personally have no problem with that.
But keeping Terry Godwin was a great way to end the day. Godwin is another member of this class who's likely just too athletic to keep off the field. It will be interesting to see how Brian Schottenheimer uses him, though I'd expect that looking up Tavon Austin's St. Louis Rams highlights might be a good starting place.
I do have a problem with UCLA apparently trying to keep their defensive coordinator's defection to the Atlanta Falcons a secret until Roquan Smith's letter of intent came in. I wouldn't expect anything less from Jim Mora. That being said, Smith opening up his recruitment rather than simply choosing Georgia sounds a lot like a kid looking for any excuse not to come to Athens. If that's the case, it would mean that Georgia has failed to sign the best linebacker in the state of Georgia in every class since 2013 (Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd were both in the class of 2012).
If I had to choose the position group about which I am most optimistic, it would be the defensive line. Georgia cleaned up up front. Thompson is a day one contributor at defensive tackle. Natrez Patrick and D'Andre Walker could both see third down duty as pass rushers and have the potential to play either standing up or with a hand in the dirt. If Georgia is committed to Jeremy Pruitt's multiple set defense, versatile guys like that are a must. Jonathan Ledbetter and Chauncey Rivers could both contribute at strong side defensive end early. Ledbetter in particular has a nose for the ball. I got to watch him a couple of times in high school and came away with the impression that he's one of those guys who is perhaps more athletic than he looks, and he looks pretty athletic.
All told 17 of Georgia's 28 signees were on the defensive side of the ball, 18 if Signing Day surprise DaQuan Hawkins plays defensive tackle rather than offensive guard. That's a solid step forward in remaking the plodding defense of the Grantham era with quicker, more versatile players.
By all objective measures, Georgia did what it needed to do in this class. The 'Dawgs added depth where depth was thin. They added immediate contributors along the defensive line and in the secondary. When you view this class in its totality, it's hard to not be excited about the potential there. Now the coaches have to turn that potential into production.
Thanks for hanging with us throughout this Signing Day. As always you are what makes Dawg Sports tick, and we couldn't have done it without you. Until later . . .