Kirby Smart & Georgia’s Best Class Ever
By Jim Johnson
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Today, the University of Georgia football program locked in the best recruiting class its ever had.
Today, the University of Georgia football program locked in the best recruiting class its ever had.
Mark Richt consistently brought in top ten to fifteen classes for almost the entirety of this millennium, but what Kirby Smart has done is something different.
Georgia fans are excited, as they should be, at the thought of the most impressive top to bottom list of signees.
If #SicEm17 lives up to its billing, the rest of the SEC East is in for a rough go of it, the next few years.
With a promising year under Jacob Eason's belt, who was one of the nation's top quarterback recruits in 2016, Smart still went out and got one of the best signal callers in the class of 2017. Quarterback is the one position where it doesn't do a whole lot of good to have depth, obviously barring injury. Still, even if Jake Fromm, who early enrolled, spends a couple of seasons, one of which potentially redshirting, looking up at Eason on the depth chart, it can't hurt to have the Houston County product breathing down Eason's neck, possibly propelling him to even greater heights.
Georgia has, almost without rival, been "Running Back U" for the better part of, at least, a decade. With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel back, not to mention former four-star Elijah Holyfield and breakout future feature back Brian Herrien waiting in the wings, there doesn't appear to be much room on the depth chart for more ball carriers. Nevertheless, D'Andre Swift, one of the top handful of tailbacks in America is headed to Athens.
Swift, at 5'10" 203 pounds, is the prototype. Reminiscent of Michel, Swift is a capable receiver, both out of the backfield and especially split out into the slot, with a penchant for big plays. His homerun threat-ability could lead to some early playing time for the Bulldogs.
Wide Receiver was one of a few position groups of concern, last year. Other than Isaiah McKenzie going pro, the 'Dawgs retain just about every contributor, though. Granted, that could be viewed negatively; if the performances don't improve it can start to become reminiscent of a certain Aerosmith song, and not in a good way. However, returning starters is typically more of a pro than a con.
Even so, with Terry Godwin suffering a significant sophomore slump, and Riley Ridley showing promise, whilst being severely inconsistent, it can't hurt to take a few more shots. There's plenty of depth, but Georgia needs an elite receiver to go with Jacob Eason.
As far as this receiver class goes, none of the group is a bona fide five-star sure thing, so, instead, Smart played the odds. Of the four, math says at least one of them hits.
Jeremiah Holloman, another early-enrollee, and Mark Webb are the two more highly touted of the four. Both are listed at 6'2" and around 200 pounds, but Holloman seems more polished than Webb. Holloman exhibits excellent body control and soft hands, with a sub 4.5 40-time. Webb may have a higher ceiling, though, if he can put it all together.
Trey Blount is another four-star, along with Holloman and Webb. He's about the same height as his future teammates, but maybe a bit more slight. That said, he also may be the fastest of the group. A gifted route runner, it's actually Blount's commitment as a run blocker that could contribute to some early playing time.
Matt Landers, a three-star, rounds out the quartet. Standing at a genuine 6'5", he is a coach's dream but could serve to bulk up. With a body like his, the sky is the limit, but he needs to commit to improving on the mechanical aspects of the position.
All four of the wideouts have ideal frames and athleticism -- now it's on the coaching staff to make sure they live up to their potential. Any of the four could end up being a star, if they put the work in.
If receiver was a concern for the Bulldogs in 2016, then the offensive line was a downright Chernobyl-level crisis.
Kirby Smart and O-line coach Sam Pittman clearly had enough of that, and sought to end the problem for the foreseeable future. Mission accomplished.
The pair have signed six organisms, somewhat resembling humans (facially), and somewhat resembling bulldozers (structurally).
Frankly, after last season, with Pyke and Kublanow graduating, Lamont Gaillard might be the only surefire starter in 2017. That leaves four spots up for grabs, making it reasonable to think that all six may see the field at various points in the season.
Both tackle spots could be filled by newcomers, of which their are four -- JUCO-transfer D'Marcus Hayes (6'6" 320 lbs.), Under Armour All-American Isaiah Wilson (6'7" 350 lbs.), U.S. Army All-American Andrew Thomas (6'5" 335 lbs.), and U.S. Army All-American D'Antne Demery (6'6" 320 lbs.). Some players currently on the roster will also compete for those spots, but, again, don't be surprised if their are two new faces on either side of the offensive line.
The remaining two members of the offensive line class are teammates from Cedar Grove High School, Netori Johnson (6'3" 340 lbs.), yet another U.S. Army All-American, and Justin Shaffer (6'5" 356 lbs.).
Jacob Eason may never be sacked again because, as big as those six are, you could probably line them up side by side and they'd stretch the width of the field.
In all seriousness, though, this is one of the best offensive line classes ever. These six separate the 2017 UGA recruiting class from all the ones of the Richt era. This group is special.
Just like the offense, the bulk of Georgia's defensive problems last year came up front.
Trenton Thompson was a superhero. Julian Rochester showed promise. Everyone else was also there, sort of. This wasn't addressed to the extent that the offensive line was, because that would be impossible, but Smart got some big time players here, as well.
Robert Beal headlines the incoming defensive linemen. Long one of the vocal spokesmen for the class, Beal, an effortlessly athletic speed rusher, is reminiscent of SEC stars like Charles Harris and Marquis Haynes, both of whom killed the 'Dawgs in 2016. With a motor that doesn't stop running and all the blitz skills in the world, as he continues to get stronger, Beal could become one of the nation's premier pass rushers.
Malik Herring is the opposite type of defensive end as Robert Beal. A big, strong, edge-setter, Herring is not as explosive or technically sound as Beal, but already looks the part and can be a useful run stopper right away.
Devonte Wyatt, a defensive tackle, looks like the prototype interior lineman at 6'3" 300 pounds, but he is an absolute freak of nature. Scary athletic, Wyatt's size and strength, combined with ridiculous speed for the position, is measurably comparable to the likes of Robert Nkemdiche. Nowhere near as polished as Nkemdiche was coming out of high school, Wyatt has a long way to go, but Smart has got to be drooling at the idea of a 300-pounder with 4.6 speed.
Georgia definitely has a lot to look forward to with some of its younger linebackers, as well as Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy coming back, making it all the more interesting to see how the linebackers they signed progress, especially now that they won't have to bear much of the playing time burden too early. Inside linebackers Roquan Smith, already one of the best in the nation, and Natrez Patrick will hold down those starting spots for the next few years, but after this upcoming season, the outside linebacker spots should be up for grabs. Plus, even looking at the short-term, there is no such thing as too much depth in the front seven (read: Alabama).
Nate McBride is an inside linebacker with excellent speed and impeccable tackling form.
Fellow inside linebacker Monty Rice, who early enrolled, is an aggressive, punishing big hitter, with upper echelon ball skills.
At outside linebacker, Jaden Hunter is gifted athlete, ripe to be molded into an elite player by Smart and company. He could help out right away, as a pass rusher, on third downs.
Finally, Walter Grant, who could be the gem of the group, has the total package. At 6'4" 235 pounds, Grant is the quintessential modern edge rusher. He is very raw, there is a lot of work to do, but his ceiling is the highest of the four linebackers.
Similar to how the offensive line class is the best, as a group, in the country, the same could be said for the secondary. Over the past two seasons, Georgia has been one of the top pass defenses in college football. This group will keep that trend alive.
Two of, undoubtedly, the best safeties in the class of 2017 are already enrolled at Georgia.
It's not even remotely fair to try to compare someone that hasn't played a down of college football to Ed Reed. With that said, Richard LeCounte is like Ed Reed. There is nothing he can do. Expect him to start immediately, at the free safety position, opposite Dominick Sanders.
Deangelo Gibbs, who should also see the field early and often, is just an all-around star. There's nothing he can't do on a football field. Even after Sanders leaves, a defensive backfield of LeCounte and Gibbs will have opposing offensive coordinators shaking in their boots for years to come.
It may be easy to dismiss the group of cornerbacks, relative to the safeties, but that would be a mistake. It seems Georgia used a similar strategy with the corners that it did with the players that they'll cover in practice. Once again, they played the numbers.
Tray Bishop is that big cornerback that everyone wants, nowadays. Smart, himself, has said that he wanted Georgia to be bigger -- and not just on the offensive line, which it is now, but even at the skill positions. Bishop is symbolic of that effort.
At 6'3" with incredible closing speed, Bishop is almost frighteningly similar to what Richard Sherman was, coming out of high school. That's his ceiling.
William Poole, is much more polished than Bishop. He's not 6'3", but he at six-feet tall he still has ideal size. Measurables aside, he is already excellent in press coverage, and, while not a burner, necessarily, Poole is as cerebral a cornerback as they come.
On National Signing Day, the Bulldogs added three more lanky defensive backs, to join Bishop and Poole.
Similar to Bishop, Ameer Speed is between 6'3" and 6'4", with otherworldly measurables. Speed will jam an opponent into last week, in press coverage.
Latavious Brini, at 6'2" is no slouch, either. Brini may have the best ball skills of the entire bunch.
Eric Stokes is more physically similar to Poole, at about 6 feet tall. He's another one that will have to improve his technique to compete in the SEC, but he is about as fast as they come.
This is the best recruiting class in Georgia football history. It doesn't mean the Bulldogs are going to rip off four consecutive national championships, but it will pay immediate dividends. Now, it's on the coaching staff. With this much talent, there are no more excuses.
Kirby smart has his guys, on paper. It's up to him and his staff to make sure that translates onto the field.