These days, it's hard for anyone not to acknowledge the state of Georgia for its ability to produce top-notch football recruits. This past season, seven of the top-50 players in the 2013 ESPN 150 hailed from the Peach State.
That's part of the reason why some analysts have suggested that it may be time to lump Georgia in with the traditional big three of California, Florida and Texas when it comes to college football recruiting.
As we take an early look ahead to the class of 2014, Georgia's class is once again headlined by two projected 5-star defenders in defensive end Lorenzo Carter and linebacker Raekwon McMillan.
Let's get acquainted with 10 of Georgia's top rising senior prospects and discuss which schools are emerging as the early favorites to sign them.
(photo via 247Sports)
Juwon Young is a physical linebacker who figures to continue his steady rise up recruiting boards. The 6'2", 220-pound Albany native had a breakout sophomore campaign during which the former defensive end finished with 58 tackles and 10 sacks.
Young has built quite the reputation in the weight room. One of his teammates believes that Young would eat weights if he could. Young won the "Strongest Man" award at December's RisingSeniors.com game in Atlanta and last spring's National Underclassmen Combine.
Although a clear favorite is yet to emerge, Young figures to be SEC-bound as Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have all expressed interest in his services.
As a sophomore, the 5'11", 165-pound Green impressed scouts at the Nike SPARQ Combine in Atlanta with a 4.15 shuttle time. Green built on that momentum with a strong junior season, even though teams appeared to be hesitant to throw to his side of the field.
Green's ball skills will make him a highly sought-after commodity come signing day. Georgia and Florida will probably be the teams to beat.
Dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson has been a Clemson commit since February 2012, but that's not going to stop teams like Ohio State and Auburn from trying to flip him. Watson, who measures in at 6'3" and 200 pounds and has been clocked at around 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, reportedly received another offer from Miami just last week.
Watson is from the same high school as Alabama's Blake Sims, and his stat lines from his sophomore and junior seasons read like stats from a video game. He threw for 41 touchdowns in 2011 and 50 touchdowns in 2012. In fact, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Watson already holds state records for passing yards (9,360), all-purpose touchdowns (155) and passing touchdowns (108).
Even though Camden County High School won three state titles over the last decade in Georgia's highest classificationl, the Kingsland, Ga. school didn't send as many recruits to BCS conferences as you would expect from a program with such a pedigree.
That changed recently with class of 2013 signees Brice Ramsay and J.J. Green (both UGA) and Jarrad Davis (Florida). Kalvaraz Bessent appears to be next in line.
Bessent, who is originally from Jacksonville, Fla., is close to 6' tall and has been clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. He has offers from Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama and Auburn, among others.
“I would probably say Florida, Georgia and Alabama,” Bessent told 247Sports when asked to name the schools that stood out to him in the recruiting process. “I like they way they handle things education-wise and how they play football.”
After Alabama signee Alvin Kamara's departure, it figures to be less offense and more defense for defending Georgia Class 6-A champion Norcross. Look for linebacker Kevin Mouhon to help lead the way, along with defensive end Lorenzo Carter.
Mouhon already has college size (6'2", 225 pounds), and he made plays all over the field in 2012, accounting for 152 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions. He is similar to class of 2013 Ohio State signee Trey Johnson and shouldn't have to make much of a transition to the college game after playing high school football in one of Georgia's most competitive regions in Gwinnett County.
247Sports reports that Auburn and Tennessee are Mouhon's top two right now.
Pierce County's Tyler Harris is a 6'3", 205-pound pro-style quarterback with a big arm. He's very comfortable working out of the shotgun, and he can deliver the ball just about anywhere on the field. In 2012, he threw for 2,466 yards and 29 touchdowns.
As he told 247Sports:
We went into his (Saban's) office. He told me that he really liked me and was offering me. He wants me to come back to camp this summer and throw for them. I didn't know what to say. It's an amazing feeling to be offered by such an awesome program.
The Crimson Tide may have just set themselves up to be the early leader for Harris.
Dontavius Russell will probably be compared a lot to class of 2013 Auburn signee Montravius Adams. They are both about the same size (6'3", 300 pounds). And like Adams, Russell is an athletic defensive tackle who spends quite a bit of time in the opposing team's backfield.
While he has lined up at nose guard at times for Carrollton, Russell figures to be a three-technique defensive tackle at the next level. Russell had 58 tackles and three sacks in 2012.
Russell was an early target for Georgia, and new defensive line coach Chris Wilson will probably be focused on Russell after missing on Montravius Adams earlier this month.
Alabama, Auburn and Florida have also offered Russell.
Elisha Shaw is a super-athletic 6'4", 295-pound defensive tackle prospect who some teams may be tempted to play on the offensive line after watching him line up at offensive tackle for Tucker. Although he plays a little high at times on defense, he has long arms and is a disruptive force on the interior.
Georgia is at home. They send people to the league and they've got good coaches. Alabama has got good coaches and it's a great environment. It's like everything is equal with these two. I love both of them, and I grew up a fan of both of them.
The state of Georgia produced the nation's consensus top overall prospect in the class of 2013 in defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, and class of 2014 defensive end Lorenzo Carter probably won't be far behind.
"Potential" is the watchword with Carter, as college strength and conditioning coaches are salivating as they think about the muscle that they can put on his long, 6'6", 230-pound frame. The pure edge-rusher finished with 18 sacks in 2012.
Some scouts believe that Carter is a better prospect than Alabama OLB/DE Adrian Hubbard was at Norcross.
“He comes off the edge as well as anybody we’ve ever had, and he can stop the run,” Norcross coach Keith Maloof said (via Michael Carvell of the AJC). “It’s unbelievable the athletic ability he has at that position.”
Carter has received offers from everyone from UCLA to Alabama. At this point it's just too early to speculate about who's in the lead due to the high demand for him a year out from signing day.
Since Reuben Foster played his senior high school season in Alabama, Raekwon McMillan will likely be Georgia's most heralded senior inside linebacker prospect since LaGrange's Tray Blackmon in 2005. However, since he is closer to to Foster in size, McMillan will still hear his share of Foster comparisons.
McMillan (6'2", 240 pounds) erases ball-carriers in space and shows instincts well beyond his years. He finished with 87 tackles as a sophomore and nearly doubled that total with 152 stops as a junior. He combined for 50 tackles for a loss in 2011 and 2012.
Ohio State came down to Georgia to get Central Gwinnett's Trey Johnson for its 2013 class, and Urban Meyer and Everett Withers appear to have their sights set on McMillan for 2014. In fact, McMillan recently admitted that Meyer and Withers are the main reason that the Buckeyes are his early leader with Clemson being a close second.
"It's hard to not want to play for a guy like that," McMillan said of Meyer (via 247Sports). "Urban Meyer is another version of Nick Saban. He's going to get the best out of you and he actually cares about you off the field."
Nevertheless, McMillan has also talked about the possibility of teaming up with Reuben Foster at Alabama.
"When I was younger, I didn't want to play beside him (Foster), but now I think that would be one of the best decisions I would make," McMillan said (via 247Sports ). "I've just got to see what's best for me."