We continue our list of Georgia Bulldogs whose emergence could power the team to a successful 2018 with a defensive lineman who literally decided to join the ‘Dawgs when he couldn’t beat them.
One could make a strong argument that no team in the SEC has benefitted more from the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule in the past two seasons than the Georgia Bulldogs. Former Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith was the transitional leader of Mel Tucker’s 2016 defense. Former Columbia punter Cam Nizialek was a surprise hero for the 2017 Bulldogs. Now former Notre Dame defensive tackle Jay Hayes will look to make his mark in Athens.
Bulldog fans are probably unaware that Hayes, who graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in film, actually led the Fighting Irish in tackles (7) against Georgia last September. In fact, Hayes started all 13 games for the Irish in 2017, amassing 27 total tackles from the inside of the 4-3 defense played in South Bend.
He enters a defensive line unit in Athens that has a lot to prove. Gone from 2017’s group are senior fixture John Atkins and junior starter Trenton Thompson. Returning are a group of players who have shown some promise, but who Kirby Smart has unapologetically said must do better. Juniors Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester and senior DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle have all contributed. But there’s no doubt there are snaps available on the interior of the UGA defensive line. I expect Hayes to play the three-technique spot Thompson did last season, especially on passing downs. But I also anticipate he’ll see action outside in the five-technique slot where Jonathan Ledbetter and David Marshall mostly work. At 6’3, 289 pounds Hayes has the potential to move all over Georgia’s 3-4 front, and that versatility makes him valuable.
In Hayes Georgia got a physically mature, experienced player who the staff even got to see up close and personal in 2017. I don’t necessarily expect Hayes to end the season as a first round NFL draft pick. But you don’t spend a scholarship on a grad transfer for him to ride the pine. I do expect him to quietly log a ton of snaps up front, especially if some of the players expected to take a step forward (Michail Carter, Justin Young) don’t do so, or if the 2018 recruits (Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt) aren’t ready to step in. Until later . . .