Kirby Smart's latest stellar recruiting class should help keep the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff conversation
There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Georgia Bulldogs in the early 2021 offseason. A four-game winning streak to close last year, fueled by a finally healthy JT Daniels at quarterback, has helped many forget the disappointment of regular-season losses to Alabama and Florida that kept the Dawgs out of the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2016.
Georgia was hit hard by declarations for the 2021 NFL Draft, especially on defense where 10 major contributors must be replaced, including three starting underclassmen who left early, and two high-profile transfers. Nevertheless, head coach Kirby Smart and his staff have recruited at an elite level, and as a result, capable reinforcements are already on the scene. The Bulldogs' SEC and national championship hopes are legitimate and five newcomers — three true freshmen and a pair of redshirts (are we actually calling them redshirts, is there an official decree on that yet?) limited by injury in 2020 — could all play important roles.
Nyland Green, CB
Georgia's secondary is by far the biggest question mark on the roster early in 2021, with six players who combined to play 2,222 snaps (an average of 370 per defensive back for a unit that was on the field for 661 plays a year ago) leaving the program. Cornerback was impacted most with the draft declarations of Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes, and DJ Daniel, and the transfer of Tyrique Stevenson to Miami, meaning opportunity is available for a true freshman like Green to play a lot. A high four-star prospect ranked No. 71 overall and No. 4 at his position in the 247Sports Composite, Green is a fluid athlete with great size for the position and a well-rounded skill set.
Broderick Jones, OL
A five-star prospect ranked No. 11 overall in the 2020 recruiting cycle, Jones arrived in Athens with high expectations. Some even expected him to eventually take over for one of the Bulldogs' two first-round tackles, Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson as a true freshman. Unfortunately, a preseason leg injury (and 2020 in general) made that much more difficult, and Jones played just 25 snaps across two games, according to PFF. Jamaree Salyer started at left tackle last year but shifted to guard in the bowl game, opening a spot for Jones to compete with Xavier Truss, among others. Two starters, center Trey Hill and guard Ben Cleveland, are also set to begin their pro careers, so there will likely be a lot of mixing and matching this spring to find the best five players. Incoming freshman Amarius Mims, an even higher rated player than Jones at No. 7 overall in 2021, could be in the mix as well.
Kelee Ringo, CB
Similar to Jones, Ringo was a five-star member of the 2020 class expected to play right away. Ringo was also limited by injury, more so than Jones since he couldn't even practice until December following shoulder surgery and didn't play a single snap last season. Of course, as the No. 4 overall prospect and No. 1 cornerback in his cycle, Ringo has the skills to hit the ground running in 2021. Don't be surprised if he's starting opposite Ameer Speed when Georgia kicks off against Clemson in Week 1.
Xavian Sorey Jr., LB
Even with Azeez Ojulari and Monty Rice leaving for the NFL and Jermaine Johnson transferring to Florida State, linebacker should be a position of strength for the Bulldogs in 2021. Nevertheless, there is always room for an athletic playmaker on defense. Sorey was a five-star member of the most recent class, and listed at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, he isn't built like a true freshman pass rushing sensation a la Will Anderson at Alabama. Sorey also spent most of his high school career playing in coverage on defense, in addition to several offensive positions and basketball. With a more specialized approach on the field and plenty of time in the weight room, it's not difficult to imagine an Ojulari-like rise for Sorey over the next few years.
Brock Vandagriff, QB
Daniels should be considered the unquestioned starter at quarterback, and his high level of production (1,231 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10.3 yards per pass attempt) in a short sample is reason enough to think the Bulldogs will be more consistent, balanced, and explosive offensively in 2021. But Vandagriff is the future, and Georgia may have finally set itself up for a smooth transition at the position. Another five-star ranked among the best in his class (No. 16 overall, No. 2 among dual-threat quarterbacks), Vandagriff has all the tools to succeed. It's possible (maybe likely) he slots in as Daniels' top backup on Day 1. The only question is whether or not Vandagriff can quickly adjust to the speed of the college game after playing mostly low-level competition in high school (we should probably assume the answer is yes, though).