It seems as if Georgia Bulldog fans have spent the last decade talking about what it would take for their football team to contend for a national title. Kirby Smart and his team have shown on the field in 2017 what that would look like. It required veteran leadership, some depth at key positions, and a physical upgrade across the board. Today the UGA coaching staff showed what it will take to keep the Red and Black competing at that level.
This is what a championship recruiting class looks like.
On the field everything starts up front, so let’s start there with our Signing Day recap. Georgia’s five offensive line signees are as good a group as the ‘Dawgs have signed in recent memory, with the Bulldogs inking the #1 and #2 guards in the country, the #2 tackle, and the #5 center (all according to 247Sports). Jamaree Salyer is the headliner of the group in my mind. Salyer is as good an interior line prospect as I’ve seen since perhaps Ben Jones. A guy who looks like he could actually jump to the front of a very talented, very crowded rotation.
Trey Hill is the type of nasty, physical interior lineman necessary to win in the SEC. Warren Ericson has the versatility to play any of the five offensive line spots, and could be one of those players who eventually seems to have been playing for 27 years. Owen Condon is, in this group at least, a little undersized and coming off a knee injury may need a year or two to develop. Cade Mays looks like the right tackle of the future, a massive road grader who like Hill plays with a chip on his shoulder.
While things are still shaking out, I believe Georgia is likely to have signed the top offensive line class in the country for the second consecutive season. I love Mark Richt, but that’s not something he ever did and it’s not something I believe would have happened if he were still in Athens. Kirby Smart deserves some credit for the haul. But offensive line coach Sam Pittman deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Whatever the man’s looking for in terms of a raise this year, pay it.
The Red and Black didn’t skimp at the skill positions either. Georgia signed the #1 dual threat quarterback, #1 tailback, and #3 tailback in the country. Obviously it will be interesting to see how Jim Chaney uses Justin Fields’ unique skills in Athens. Aaron Murray never got appropriate credit for his running ability, and Matt Stafford was more mobile than he should have been at his size. But Fields may be the first truly dual threat quarterback in Athens since D.J. Shockley, and I expect we’ll get to see him in 2018.
Zamir White was a force of nature during a senior season in which he rushed for 2085 yards before a late season ACL tear. It’s a testament to the Bulldogs’ depth at the position that the top running back in the country may well redshirt in order to give his knee time to heal fully and be ready in 2019. Fellow signee James Cook however will almost certainly enter the tailback rotation in 2018. Cook may challenge D’Andre Swift for the best hands in the running back room as soon as he steps on campus.
Georgia also added offensive players at positions of need. John FitzPatrick is the prototype big tight end with solid receiving skills. Kearis Jackson is a compact wide receiver who uses his body well and could move into the rotation in the slot sooner rather than later.
Defensively, this class is speed on speed on aggression. Every defensive recruit who signed today (including defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, who’s already on campus) can run. And most of them are also known hitters, guys who initiate contact rather than shying from it.
Adam Anderson reminds me of Leonard Floyd coming out of high school, though I dare say he’s more refined as a player. How scary is that?
Brenton Cox is a five star defensive end. He would be the crown jewel of most schools’ recruiting classes. Somehow he’s only the sixth most highly rated player in this UGA class. Nevertheless, Cox has the look of a versatile defensive end/strongside linebacker hybrid, the kind you absolutely must have to defend today’s wide open offenses.
Azeez Ojulari reminds me a lot of Jordan Jenkins at this stage. He might not be as stout physically as Jenkins was coming out of Harris County, but he has the same physical game and the same pass rushing instincts.
Late addition Channing Tindall is a rangy linebacker who can cover, rush the passer, and tackle. Tindall can play inside or outside. But most of all, he’s a football player, a guy who gets his hands dirty.
Chris Smith is an incredibly productive corner, a vocal leader, and somehow an “under the radar” recruit despite being among the top 30 in the country at his position.
On special teams Norcross’s Jake Camarda will almost certainly enter the contest to replace Cameron Nizialek at punter, but could eventually replace Rodrigo Blankenship at kicker as well.
In short, top to bottom, this is the most complete signing class Georgia has put together in some time, and it’s not even done (more on that later). Georgia currently has the #1 ranked class in the country according to ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports for 2018. Even more frightening, Georgia currently has the #1 ranked class for 2019 with three of the top ten players in the 247Sports rankings committed. Georgia is likely the favorite for a fourth, Grayson’s Owen Pappoe.
It’s possible, just possible mind you, that Kirby Smart is fielding (on paper) the least talented team that he will have until at least 2022. That team just won the SEC in convincing fashion and is in the college football playoff.
Today the Georgia coaching staff signed the kind of class that you must sign to compete for national titles. Tomorrow, they will go back to developing a team that’s looking to compete for one right now. Until later . . .