It was a great day in Athens yesterday as the Georgia Bulldogs finished the 2017 recruiting cycle with the 2nd-best class in the country. Head coach Kirby Smart recruited the state better than any Bulldog coach in recent memory, with 18 of the 26 signees hailing from the peach state.
The pitch was pretty simple. “Stay in the state. Change the program. Help bring a championship back to Georgia.” It’s safe to say the pitch worked. After a frustrating 8-5 season, these 2017 targets saw a change was needed in Athens, and wanted to be the guys to turn the program around.
As well as Smart and the staff did recruiting in-state, they did a great job recruiting elsewhere as well. Landing Isaiah Wilson, D’Andre Swift, Mark Webb, Monty Rice, and Ameer Speed from other states proved to everyone that Smart is one of the best recruiters in college football. Wilson and Swift in particular are special players that will have an instant impact in Athens the minute they step on campus.
On paper this is the best recruiting class in Georgia history, and it’s the highest ranked class they’ve had in the .com era. Here’s how the class graded out by position.
Quarterback (1): Jake Fromm
Back in 2015, the quarterback situation was a little different. Bailey Hockman was committed to Georgia, and Jake Fromm was committed to Alabama. Once Kirby Smart took the reins, he made Fromm a priority, leaving Hockman to look elsewhere. Landing Fromm was critical to this class, not only because he’s a five-star quarterback from the middle of Georgia, but because he’s a true leader who helped build the rest of the class.
As a player, Fromm is extremely accurate; he has the intangibles, good arm strength, leadership, and quite possibly the highest football IQ of any quarterback in the 2017 class. He will push Jacob Eason this spring, and prove down the road why he was labeled a five-star quarterback. Landing a five-star quarterback in the state is always important, and the Bulldogs hit a home run signing Jake Fromm.
Running back (1): D’Andre Swift
The Bulldogs keep the tradition going and sign yet another elite back. This time they went north and found one out of Philadelphia. Swift is a great overall back that is physically gifted, he runs hard, he has the speed needed, and catches the ball well out of the backfield. He has quick feet for a guy his size, and can either run over defender or run right by him.
Swift is one of the top backs in the country, and will not be sitting on the bench much next fall. He’s way too talented not to play, and has a chance to get the third most carries on the team in 2017. Herrien proved to be a reliable option last year, and Holyfield has a chance to break out as well, but Swift brings more to the table. Even with Chubb and Michel back, look for Swift to get carries this fall. Getting Swift was big, but the argument can be made that they still needed to sign 2 backs in this class. The speedy Toneil Carter would have been a nice compliment to Swift, and keeping him somehow would have made this position group an A+.
Wide Receivers (4): Jeremiah Holloman, Trey Blount, Matt Landers, Mark Webb
The Bulldogs wanted size from their receivers in 2017, and that’s what they got. Landers is the tallest and longest at 6-foot-5 192-pounds, but the other three are also at 6-foot-2 or taller. All four show the ability to make plays, and are very good at gaining yards after the catch.
While these four are good players, there is no real “game-changing” player in this group. None of them should be considered “elite” at all, but they are reliable. It’s not the fastest group, or the group with the most consistent hands, but they each bring something different to the table and should make some kind of impact at the next level.
Honestly, there weren’t any “elite” receivers that Georgia has a legit chance with. Devonta Smith was an early commitment, but that happened early in the process and was never a true option after the decommitment. It’s tough to say Georgia “missed” on any receivers in this class. Nico Collins signed with Michigan on Signing Day, but its’ tough to call him a “miss” considering the tight numbers in the end.
Keep in mind that Deangelo Gibbs could also play at receiver if needed, and could be the best one in this group. His talents are needed more in the secondary at this time. Overall, while there is no game-changer in this group, the Bulldogs did the best they could with the talent in this recruiting cycle.
Offensive Line (6): D’Marcus Hayes, Isaiah Wilson, Netori Johnson, Justin Shaffer, Andrew Thomas, D’antne Demery.
This was EASILY the best offensive line haul in Georgia football history. The line has been a weakness on the line for years, but it won’t be for long. It was important for Smart and Pittman to go after larger guys to beef up the line, and that’s exactly what happened. This is a massive group that should be able to maul defenders in the run game moving forward.
Hayes has a great chance to play early at left tackle, and Wilson is a guy who could see early action on the right side at either tackle or guard at 6-foot-7 354-pounds. Andrew Thomas is another tackle prospect who can play early with those long arms. Johnson and Shaffer are both massive guard prospects with both weighing around 350-pounds. This group will have to drop some bad weight in the off-season, but they certainly have the size and talent to dominate in the coming years. Georgia could not have signed a better offensive line class this year.
Defensive Line (3): Malik Herring, Devante Wyatt, Robert Beal.
After a great defensive line haul last year, the Bulldogs ended 2017 with a much smaller group. Herring is a great athlete who can rush the passer from his defensive end spot, and Wyatt is a versatile lineman who plays fast and can really shoot the gaps. None of these guys blow you away with their size, but they are faster lineman than ones Georgia has signed in the past.
Beal is listed at defensive end, but has the chance to start out at outside linebacker. He is the best true pass rusher in this class, and as he gets bigger will most likely move down and play defensive end.
It’s critical that teams have impact pass rushers, and Georgia only landed one in this class with Beal. Herring can make plays in the backfield, but he’s not the pass rusher Beal is. The Bulldogs also needed to land another defensive tackle, and missing on Aubrey Solomon was a big miss, even though they never had a chance after December. Overall, this is a talented but small group. Georgia needs to find some impact defensive lineman in the 2018 class.
Linebackers (4): Nate McBride, Monty Rice, Jaden Hunter, Walter Grant
This is another group where Smart and his staff did an excellent job. The staff was able to sign three of the best linebackers in the state of Georgia, and pulled an outstanding linebacker from Alabama.
The two inside linebackers bring a lot to the table and should complement each other well. McBride brings the speed and athleticism to the middle linebacker spot, while Rice is a very instinctual player who can really hit. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Rice become the team’s leading tackler in 2018 or 2019.
The two outside linebacker bring versatility. Jaden Hunter does so many things well. He’s a sure tackler, he’s a smart player, and shows great athleticism. He and Walter Grant can both play inside, outside, and even defensive end down the road. Grant is impressive physically, hits hard, and moves well for a guy his size. Overall this is a strong group and one Smart should be very excited about. He went out and got the guys he wanted. The only player Georgia really missed out on was Auburn signee K.J Britt, who is ranked as a three-star prospect.
Defensive Back (7): Richard LeCounte, Deangelo Gibbs, William Poole, Tray Bishop, Ameer Speed, Latavious Brini, Eric Stokes.
Like the offensive line group, this is the best group of defensive backs Georgia has signed in a long time. LeCounte started this class, and was critical in how this class ended up. He is a rangy prospect with outstanding ball skills. He plays with swagger and confidence; he plays physical, and he can make a play on any ball thrown around him. Look for him to excel at the star/nickel position early in Athens.
Gibbs is a great athlete and someone else with tremendous ball skills. He has great size for a defensive back, he covers well, and can creep up and play well against the run. He can man up against bigger receivers if needed at the cornerback position.
Bishop is another versatile athlete who can play the run well from his strong safety spot. He still needs to work on his coverage skills, but the potential is certainly there.
Poole is one of the top cornerback prospects in the state, and was rarely thrown at in high school. He is another guy who could play safety if needed too.
Stokes is listed as an athlete, but brings elite speed to the position. He will be able to cover the fastest receiver against any opponent. He still needs to work on becoming a true cornerback, but there’s a lot to like about his game. Stokes can make an impact as a receiver too.
Speed was an outstanding addition for the Bulldogs as he signed with Georgia the morning of Signing Day. He has the size the coaches want at cornerback, he’s great in press coverage, and can also cover some of the bigger receivers that Georgia will see down the road. Look for Speed to be a multi-year starter in Athens.
Brini has the height, but he is still a work in progress. He will add depth to the position and has the chance to be an impact special team’s player before he sees playing time at cornerback.
The 2017 class was loaded at defensive back, and while Georgia did miss on a couple of guys, this is still an outstanding group with multiple impact players.
Overall, Georgia’s class couldn’t be much better. They did miss on a couple of major targets, but outside of an elite pass rusher and defensive tackle, the Bulldogs addressed all of their needs in this class. They signed a five-star quarterback, an instant impact back, upgraded the offensive line as well as they could, signed some hard hitting linebackers, and landed some playmaking defensive backs with elite ball skills. Multiple guys will make an impact as freshman, and many of them will play on Sundays.