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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #8 Georgia

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 14, 2014

#8 Georgia Bulldogs

 

2013 Recap:

When you look at the 8-5 record Georgia had at a quick glance you get mixed results. They lost their opener to Clemson in one of the most entertaining games of the season but after wins against South Carolina and LSU they looked ready to be right back in the thick of the title picture. Then the injuries started to mount. The top two running backs and top three pass catchers, and then later the durable Aaron Murray, all went down. For Georgia to still maintain national relevance after what they experienced was impressive.

 

Coaching:

I'm not sure why Mark Richt hasn't has his name thrown around more as an NFL coaching possibility. He is one of the most level headed coaches in the business and he is succeeding in the SEC, the toughest conference in the land. Georgia assistants have always been in demand and there has been a high turnover in this area, but Richt remains the man in charge.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Aaron Murray left with virtually every Georgia record that was on the books as he is not only Georgia’s All-Time passing leader but his 13,166 yards is tops for the SEC as well. To say Georgia will miss him is an understatement since he was a four year starter and he will hopefully succeed in the NFL following that late knee injury he suffered. Hutson Mason will only be on the scene for one season but he is a fine quarterback in his own right. In duty for Murray last year Mason completed 61% of his passes with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and an impressive 145 efficiency rating. Mason will have every opportunity to succeed with the talent around him especially at running back when it seems like he has the #1 guy in the nation in Todd Gurley. Gurley had 989 yards even with missing four games due to injury and being limited in two others. Gurley had over 1,300 yards as a freshman and he is one of two underclassmen running backs currently carrying a 1st round grade for the upcoming draft if he declares (which seems highly likely). Gurley should be in Heisman consideration if Georgia is in SEC contention this season and at 225 pounds he is a bruising running back and tacklers tend to feel the effects of bringing him down. Gurley isn’t just big, he is very fast, and the combination makes him a great weapon. That and there is a capable stable of running backs behind him like Keith Marshall who is also coming off injury and a valid NFL prospect himself.

Best Draft Prospect: Todd Gurley RB 1st Round 2016 (Likely to declare for 2015).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

A blessing in disguise may have come last season as Georgia was forced to go to their bench and deep on the depth chart, as the injury bug also struck the wide receiver position. Malcolm Mitchell was the leading receiver for the Bulldogs in 2012 and he went down with an ACL tear. So Chris Conley stepped up and led the team with 45 catches for 651 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Michael Bennett also contributed 4 touchdowns on 41 catches. Sophomore Reggie David also showed some nice flashes as a freshman last season, so the depth is there at receiver. It looks like Conley will start along with Mitchell, who is now healthy and the best receiver on the team.

Arthur Lynch was the go to man near the goal line and in pressure situations last year but the tight end graduated. As good as the receivers are Jay Rome, the new tight end, might be the key as the junior should step right into Lynch’s role and not miss a beat. This is a deep squad that can possess the ball and there is speed for big plays.

Best Draft Prospect: Malcolm Mitchell WR 4th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line should be in good shape but the line will need time to gel with three new starters. David Andrews is a solid center who should attract NFL attention as a late round prospect and he shows great leadership skills. John Theus is the man on this line from a pure talent standpoint. The junior has the talent to be a fringe 1st rounder and this should be the season he emerges as one of the brighter linemen in the SEC. We currently have Theus listed as a 3rd rounder but his versatility and mobility could make that a conservative estimate. Georgia lost some recruits along the offensive line over the last few seasons and it will show with this season with a lack of seasoned starters. Greg Pyke at right guard might be the most promising youngster on the team as the sophomore could show some NFL moxy this season. The line does look like it is more geared towards the run so Georgia has that working in their favor.

Best Draft Prospect: John Theus OT 3rd Round 2016.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The defense let Georgia down a bit last year but help is on the way as 10 of the 11 starters are back and the defensive struggles are not from a lack of talent. Had the school not dismissed safety Joshua Harvey-Clemons from the team, all 11 starters would have returned. While overall the defense ranked a mediocre-yet-respectable 45th overall in the country, they were 78th and 10th in the SEC in scoring defense allowing 29 points a game. Ray Drew is the best lineman the Bulldogs have but he is at best a mid-prospect for this draft, so up front is where Georgia needs the most help. They were weak along the line and the excellent linebacking corps had to do more than what it should have. Georgia will stay with the 3-4 front with the arrival of yet another defensive coordinator, which they have been through a few in recent years. Georgia will need more production from nose tackle Chris Mayes and backup Mike Thornton. Lorenzo Carter is the new recruit along the line and he could see some time at end in certain packages, although we should see him utilized more as a pass rushing linebacker. If the line struggles it could lead to some bad things for Georgia, as there is no area of the football field that needs to show more improvement than the defensive line this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Ray Drew DE 4th Round 2015.

 

Linebackers:

The four starting linebackers make up the best collective starting group in the SEC and all four will be playing at the next level. Last season when adding up the stats of the linebackers, they totaled 345 tackles with 38 coming for loss and 16 sacks. Ramik Wilson is the leading tackler and his 133 should put him near the top of the conference. Wilson had 76 solo tackles which was far and away the most on the team and he is currently a 2nd round prospect for us in the upcoming draft. Amarlo Herrera is a sure tackler who finished second on the team with 112. He can play the pass in the middle when asked and his delayed blitzes are a key aspect in the defense. The outside and the pash rushing ability of junior Jordan Jenkins and sophomore Leonard Floyd is what makes Georgia most dangerous. The tackle numbers for Herrera and Wilson are a little padded and inflated with the line being ineffective but Jenkins and newcomer Floyd had 11.5 sacks last season. Floyd had the better numbers but most of that dealt with increased attention on Jenkins. Jenkins projects as a 1st rounder if he leaves early this season while Floyd is just a sophomore. Davin Bellamy is a freshman to be excited about along the outside while Reggie Carter had 8 stops in limited action inside last season. There is depth and tremendous starting talent here as Georgia is not only the best in the conference but they may be the top linebacking unit in all of college football.

Best Draft Prospect: Jordan Jenkins 1st Round 2016 (Likely to declare for 2015).

 

Secondary:

The dismissal of Joshua Harvey-Clemons was needed even if his contributions on the field will be sorely missed. Damian Swann may be the most underrated cornerback in the upcoming draft class. There is no other way to put it. Swann did not have any interceptions last season but he had 8 pass breakups and had four picks in 2012 when he was voted most improved player on the roster by the coaches and his peers. With Shaq Wiggins getting better as the season rolled on, teams will not be able to avoid Swann as much as they had last season and we expect a significant improvement in his numbers for the upcoming season. Quincy Mauger had an up and down campaign as a freshman but he is ready to be one of the leaders in the secondary and he will be starting opposite senior Corey Moore and sophomore Tray Matthews as we expect Georgia to use two players to start the season in the strong safety position. Georgia had a lot of potential interceptions and turnover opportunities that they failed to capitalize on a season ago and the defense needs to do a better job at creating turnovers and taking advantage of these situations when they happen. Georgia finished 102nd in the nation with a -7 turnover ratio. That number has to improve, otherwise it won’t matter how efficient they are moving the football.

Best Draft Prospect: Damian Swann CB 3rd Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Marshall Morgan could declare for the upcoming draft if he is seen as the top kicker available and that is not a stretch. Morgan was 22-24 a season ago going 7-8 beyond 40 yards and 2 of 3 from 50 and beyond. Collin Barber was very inconsistent as a punter.

Isaiah McKenzie is the return man that has people talking. The wide receiver was seen by some as the top return man in the nation and the freshman will have his chance at Georgia, likely for kickoffs and punts.

Best Draft Prospect: Marshall Morgan K 6th Round 2016 (Could declare for 2015 if rated as top kicker available).

 

Schedule:

Like last season Clemson and South Carolina open the schedule at home and away respectively. Georgia has the benefit of avoiding Alabama and LSU with Auburn coming at home late in the campaign. This is one of the easier schedules for an SEC team. That should be welcomed because Georgia had one of the toughest schedules around last season.

 

Draft Outlook:

The linebackers will be the focus with Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson. John Theus and Leonard Floyd could be developing into special players while the gem will be Todd Gurley as he should break the two year drought of running backs not being drafted in the first round, if he declares, which many feel he will. Georgia has been one of the better schools for individual talents over the last five years and that should continue, although we just won’t see as many prospects along the offensive and defensive lines.

 

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