Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldog football team came into Early Signing Day for the 2020 cycle with a stacked roster. After three straight national top 3 recruiting classes, and even with some attrition for transfers and NFL entries, this team was still going to throw a lot of excellent football players out on the field next season.
The task then was to fill the few remaining obvious holes in the roster and put pieces in place for the future. This type of proactive roster management is an underrated skill in this era of hard signing caps, in which Nick Saban (with Kirby Smart’s help) can’t go out and sign 30+ recruits every single season.
As always we won’t really know how good this class will be for some time to come. But based upon the information we do have available, and relative to the expectations for a program where this one is, the Bulldogs hit a good lick today. Even better, they’re likely not done.
Plugging the leaks swiftly and aggressively
The biggest, glaring deficiency in the Red and Black roster was at wide receiver. Kirby Smart admitted as much after the SEC Championship Game, pointing out the loss of four current NFL wide receivers from his 2018 team, the difficulty in replacing them, and adding candidly “That’s my responsibility to replace them in recruiting. And we probably haven’t done a good enough job of that.”
Coach Smart put his scholarships where his mouth is. Georgia signed four wide receivers, including three (Marcus Rosemy, Arian Smith, and Jermaine Burton) ranked among the top 100 prospects in America. With the possible exception of Ohio State (which signed four national top 100 receivers, including 247Sports’ #2 player nationally in Julian Fleming) it was the best wide receiver class in the nation, and is in the discussion from a pure star power discussion for the best receiver groups in modern UGA recruiting history.
I can’t say that the Bulldog passing attack will improve significantly in 2020. I can say that with Demetris Robertson, Kearis Jackson, Tommy Bush, and Dominick Blaylock hopefully healthy, George Pickens a year older, and these four freshmen on the roster (not to mention 2019 signee Makiya Tongue) if it’s not it won’t be for lack of talent.
Another area of need in this class was on the defensive front. The Athenians will lose five players from this year’s rotation in Tyler Clark, Michael Barnett, David Marshall, Michail Carter, and Justin Young. Georgia replaced those contributors with a trio of explosive players in Nazir Stackhouse, Warren Brinson, and Jalen Carter. And with Mississippi nose tackle McKinnley Jackson still lingering as a possibility, this unit could get even better.
Georgia also looks to be adding needed help on the offensive line, though work remains to be done. It’s become something of a platitude in Bulldog Nation over the past couple of years to say that Georgia has plenty of depth on the offensive line. As Mark Twain famously said, “it’s not the things you don’t know that get you in trouble, it’s the things you know to be true that just aren’t so.”
Such is the case here. With Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson’s departure for the NFL, and Ben Cleveland, Solomon Kindley, and potentially Cade Mays only one year away, Georgia came into this Signing Day a transfer and an injury away from being certifiably thin up front at a position group where it’s hard to just plug in freshmen. Tate Ratledge looks like a multi-year starter at offensive tackle. He’s big, he’s quick, and he will likely get bigger and quicker. Devin Willock and Chad Lindberg may both take a year to develop, but show great potential. Late addition Austin Blaske is an intriguing prospect as well.
The big project for Georgia at this point is keeping Auburn from poaching Broderick Jones and LSU from keeping Sedrick Van Pran home in February. The fact that neither elected to sign elsewhere today gives them time to get to know Coach Luke and hopefully stay in the fold. If either (or Heaven forbid both) head elsewhere, Matt Luke’s first class goes from superb to merely very good.
Finally Georgia desperately needed someone with the physical and mental tools to play quarterback if Jake Fromm heads to the NFL and Dwan Mathis isn’t medically cleared to play in 2020. In Carson Beck they got a prototype pro style QB who could play early if he needs to. Still, if Fromm does decamp for the pros do not be surprised to see Georgia pursue another transfer QB to go with former Walton High/University of Nevada signal caller Austin Kirksey (especially if Kirksey isn’t cleared to compete next year).
Safeguarding the future
At the positions where the Bulldog staff needed simply to keep stockpiling talent they did so emphatically. Kendall Milton looks like a future star at tailback. Five star outside linebacker Mekhail Sherman brings an elite size/speed combination comparable to Azeez Ojulari’s and Adam Anderson’s. With Robert Beal’s transfer another outside ‘backer would have been nice. But there are several promising 2021 recruits who will get a look there.
At corner Jalen Kimber will join a stacked position group that should return 7-9 players who saw significant time in 2019 (depending on which ones play safety). The nation’s top corner, Arizona native Kelee Ringo, signed today but will announce his decision in two weeks at the Under Armour game. I don’t know that he’s committed to Georgia, but the fact that the ‘Dawgs don’t seem to be pursuing any other corners and pulled back on some other late offers gives me a pretty good feeling. Four star Major Burns will join sophomore Lewis Cine and juniors Otis Reese and Latavious Brini to complete for time at safety (and a starting spot if Richard LeCounte books it for the NFL).
Putting the cherry on top
Georgia isn’t done. In addition to Kelee Ringo the Bulldogs are also looking for good news from five star Darnell Washington, a 6’7 1/2 , 255 pound tight end who has unbelievable potential if we can just figure out how to use him. After today the Red and Black sit at #4 in 247Sports’ team rankings, up from #6 at the start of the day.
If you look at those numbers you’ll notice that the Bulldogs’ average recruit ranking is exactly the same as leader Clemson’s, though the Dabblin’ Dabos may have no more than one more scholarship to give. I ran the numbers using 247’s “class calculator” tool, which allows you to hypothetically add/remove players from a class. If Georgia keeps Broderick Jones and Sedrick Van Pran in the fold, and adds Ringo, Washington, and McKinnley Jackson, the ‘Dawgs would pass Clemson by a hair (312.40 to 311.90). Unless Coach Smart’s staff misses on all of those and replaces them with much lower rated prospects it’s unlikely this class finishes outside the top 3.
Georgia is playing in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night and not in the College Football Playoff because it has some things it needs to fix as a football team. No one can realistically deny that. But to the extent that those concerns could be addressed on Early National Signing Day the staff did so with gusto. For today at least, that’s all that can be asked. Until later . . .