The Bulldogs' 2016 signing class currently has 16 members. Georgia has room for at least 21 signees, and could take as many as 25 if the right prospects wanted to come aboard. A more likely scenario is 22-23.
Georgia suffered significant losses on both the offensive and defensive fronts and at linebacker this offseason, mostly due to graduation. Coach Smart also hasn't been particularly bashful about stating that Georgia needs to get bigger, stronger, and deeper on both lines. With the loss of Malcolm Mitchell the 'Dawgs are also in desperate need of playmakers at wide receiver. A couple of major needs, a quarterback capable of becoming a multi-year starter and a tailback to provide additional depth, have already been met in Jacob Eason and Elijah Holyfield.
Georgia currently has commitments from 2 of the 31 players ranked by 247Sports as composite 5 star players. The Red and Black have designs on 5 more. That includes the top-ranked player in the state of Georgia, Lanier High defensive tackle Derrick Brown. Brown had long been assumed to be a Bulldog lean, but over the past couple of weeks several recruiting analysts have publicly predicted he ends up at either Auburn or Tennessee. That would be a huge miss for Kirby Smart, and an inauspicious start to his efforts to lock down the state of Georgia. Smart's not letting him leave the state without a fight however, going to see Brown twice on Thursday before the big man departed for his official visit to Tennessee.
While it wouldn't be good news, losing Brown would't actually torpedo the class. Georgia already has commitments from 4 star Americus DT Tyler Clark and 4 star McEachern tackle Julian Rochester. Georgia also appears to lead for 4 star Jackson High defensive tackle Michail Carter. Add in 4 star defensive end Chauncey Manac out of Clinch County, and Georgia looks well on its way to improving quality depth on the defensive front. That's to say nothing of Upson-Lee defensive end David Marshall, who's committed to Auburn and might be so right up until he sends in a letter of intent to Georgia.
On the offensive line, Coach Sam Pittman has taken to the road to try to reshape the Bulldog offensive line. The smaller, quicker linemen who dominated the UGA offensive line under Will Friend and Rob Sale are making way for bigger big uglies. 3 offensive linemen are already in the fold, including longtime commit Ben Cleveland from Stephens County, Lee County standout Chris Barnes, and massive recent addition Solomon Kindley out of Florida. Georgia is still looking for a commitment from Archer High offensive tackle E.J. Price, who had been committed to Georgia, recommitted, and recently has looked for all the world like a guy who's already decided to enroll in Athens.
If Georgia lands the 6'6, 310 pound Price, ranked among the top 10 players in the state and one of the top 10 offensive tackles in the nation, this offensive line group would look pretty strong. But Pittman's not just trying to land him. He also played host this weekend to Washington D.C. offensive tackle Jauan Williams. Williams signing anywhere other than Florida State would be an upset, but getting him on campus the final weekend before Signing Day certainly doesn't hurt the Bulldogs' chances.
Of the major need positions outlined above, wide receiver may be the one at which the 'Dawgs have the most work remaining. Georgia has a commitment from big JUCO receiver Javon Wims, and swooped up a commitment from Florida speedster Riley Ridley less than a week before he enrolled in the Classic City. But with the recent decommitment of Mays receiver Randrecous Davis, Georgia finds itself still looking to fill slots. While the 'Dawgs aren't necessarily in need of raw numbers at the position (8 scholarship receivers return for 2016), they're in sore need of contributors. Terry Godwin is the only returning receiver who went for more than 200 yards in 2015. Godwin was a distant second behind the departed Malcolm Mitchell in receiving yards last season. Third place? Tailback Sony Michel.
But Georgia stands a real chance of landing two players capable of instantly upgrading the position. Savannah Christian star Demetris Robertson is ranked as the nation's top wide receiver, and will likely choose from among Georgia, Alabama, Notree Dame, and Stanford. Robertson recently retook the ACT in an attempt to get a score that would get him into Stanford. He's been a top priority for the new staff, however, and is actually set to make a visit to Athens after Signing Day. While he waits for that test score to come in, Robertson's recruitment will go on and on.
Elbert County standout Mecole Hardman is ranked as the top overall athlete in the nation, and could play cornerback or receiver. It looks like either Georgia or Alabama for the guy Dawg Sports readers recently ranked the most importantprospect in this class. The Red and Black have also continued to pursue McEachern receiver Tyler Simmons, a recent Alabama commit.
Georgia will also be looking to add help in the linebacking corps. Alabama standouts Mack Wilson and Ben Davis are both composite 5 star prospects who've both shown renewed interest in UGA since Kirby Smart took up residence in Athens. I still think both end up in Tuscaloosa, but hey, miracles happen. Georgia is also in the running for Syracuse commit Jaquwan Nelson, a 6'4, 230 pounder who could wind up at defensive end or strong side linebacker. As if there weren't enough balls in the air, another DE/LB hybrid, Brian Burns of Florida's American Heritage High, is choosing from among Georgia, Florida, and FSU. My money is on the 4 star prospect picking the late-charging Seminoles, but the 'Dawgs have been among his favorites throughout the process. That announcement could get interesting.
I believe that Georgia will likely finish this year with a top five recruiting class, and if everything breaks their way (including some late defections from schools like Florida and LSU), Coach Smart and crew could be looking at a top two or three group. An argument could be made that had Georgia not made a coaching change this class could have been even more impressive from a rankings standpoint. The truth is I don't expect very many of the guys the prior staff didn't recruit to suddenly take an interest in Georgia and ultimately commit. Ben Davis and Mack Wilson, for example, are still in my opinion headed to Tuscaloosa no matter who they've named as their leader.
Where this staff could push things over the top is with targets (especially instate targets) who want to stay in Georgia, whose families want them in Georgia, but who were hearing from other schools' recruiters (including Kirby Smart) that Georgia just wasn't going to win any titles. The past decade, while it included some excellent football, bore that out. But guys like David Marshall may now be swayed.
I expect Georgia to land about half of the top dozen recruits they're still in on, but there's plenty of time over the next couple of days for that to change. There are also some prospects (Demetris Robertson is a great example) who no one seems to really have a bead on. In the end Georgia is likely to still be looking up to Alabama and LSU in the rankings. It's going to take the new coaching staff winning some battles on the football field to narrow that gap on the recruiting trail. But if Georgia shows signs of life in 2017, expect the Bulldogs to likewise do big things in recruiting circles next year.