-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Athlon Sports continues its Class of 2011 national team recruiting rankings today with the No. 7 class in the nation.
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7. Georgia Bulldogs (26 signees – 6 AC100)
Winning the in-state recruits was key for Mark Richt in 2011. Of the eight nationally rated recruits to sign with Georgia, seven of them are from the Peach State. The staff capitalized on a fantastic year for talent in the state of Georgia by winning recruiting battles for local stars like Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew and Jay Rome. In fact, 19 of the 26 signees hail from in-state, and Richt landed five of the top six within his borders. Only one player in this class does not come from a neighboring state (Jonathan Jenkins, from Connecticut via a Mississippi community college).
Crowell, the country's No. 2 running back prospect, was the prized National Signing Day victory. With more than a few highly touted yet "troubled" running backs already on the roster, Crowell and his game-changing explosiveness might have a chance to start right away. The more likely scenario is third downs and specialty situations. Either way, expect to see Crowell on the field in 2011. His big-play ability is simply too great to keep on the sideline.
Joining Crowell in the backfield is quarterback Christian LeMay. The No. 4 signal caller in the nation had an interesting high school career that involved some off-the-field issues and a suspension. But his talents are apparent. He has all of the tools needed to be a great player on the next level — arm strength, poise in the pocket, natural leadership qualities and above average athletic ability. If he can refine his craft — and keep his nose clean off of the field — LeMay has a chance to be starting very soon (well, whenever Aaron Murray decides to go pro).
The offensive line is a major area of strength for this class. While the star power may not be comparable to previous classes, six big blockers — three of whom stand 6'7" — and one fantastic tight end restock the Bulldog front line. Rome, the nation's No. 2 tight end prospect, puts Tight End U back on the map. There might not be a more complete tight end prospect in the nation. Rome has the ability to anchor the outside of an offensive line in the run game and will put pressure on the middle of the defense in the passing game. It also helps to have an NFL and NBA pedigree. His father, Stan, played for the Kansas City Chiefs and was taken in the 1987 NBA Draft.
While the skill positions and secondary are loaded with flashy names, the ho-hum offensive line class should provide the key building blocks for future Georgia offenses.
On defense, the collection of secondary players Todd Grantham now has to work with is outstanding. A four-man group — which could grow to as many as seven — brings star power and depth to the defensive backfield. Two AC100 covermen, Damian Swann and Malcolm Mitchell, will be joined by nationally rated safety Corey Moore. The versatility and athleticism of this group are excellent.
Defensive ends Drew and Sterling Bailey headline a smallish front-seven class. Grantham added only three linebackers, two tackles and two ends. Drew is the nation's No. 2 end prospect, and his pass rushing skills and raw energy should be a perfect fit for the 3-4 scheme.
No. 9 Isaiah Crowell, RB (Columbus, Ga.)
No. 14 Ray Drew, DE (Thomasville, Ga.)
No. 31 Jay Rome, TE (Valdosta, Ga.)
No. 55 Damian Swann, DB (Atlanta, Ga.)
No. 60 Christian LeMay, QB (Matthews, N.C.)
No. 61 Malcolm Mitchell, CB (Valdosta, Ga.)
No. 146 Sterling Bailey, DE (Gainesville, Ga.)
No. 161 Corey Moore, DB (Griffin, Ga.)