As the Georgia Bulldogs stumble into the latter part of the season on the heels of two consecutive losses to SEC East foes, personnel questions abound.
To be sure, the bulk of depth-chart doubts on the offensive side of the ball are a direct result of a rash of injuries that have left senior quarterback Aaron Murray stranded without many of his best weapons. Defensively, the Bulldogs are still struggling to rebuild a unit that placed 10 players on NFL training camp rosters this fall.
While the questions may be understandable, the lack of answers is not—at least not at surface level. When looking at Georgia’s current lack of manpower, one can’t help but wonder: “What happened to the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes?”
The 2010 Class
To answer that question, a little background is necessary. Georgia’s 2010 class was the school's lowest ranked class of the past 10 years, according to Rivals.com. The 19-member class featured nine 4-star prospects and nine 3-star prospects but no 5-star players. Only nine of these recruits are currently on Georgia’s roster.
The attrition that academic issues, transfers and NFL opportunities created among would-be seniors has adversely affected the Bulldogs’ depth.
The Dream Team
In 2011, Georgia followed up a disappointing 6-7 season with an impressive recruiting class that was dubbed the “Dream Team.” Led by Isaiah Crowell, one of the nation’s most highly regarded running backs, this class boasted everything that the 2010 class did not:
- 5-star Recruits: Crowell and defensive end Ray Drew
- Top-Heavy Talent: 12 additional 4-star players
- Depth: 26 recruits in total
Unfortunately, this class has produced many more solid contributors than stars. Crowell was dismissed from the team following a tumultuous yet productive freshman campaign. Drew is only now starting to come into his own as a pass-rusher (he tallied five combined sacks against LSU, Tennessee and Missouri but registered just 0.5 sacks over his first two seasons).
To be fair, a number of players from this class play and contribute at a high level. Players like Ramik Wilson, Amarlo Herrera, Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are staples on the field for Georgia when healthy.
That being said, a lack of development by juniors like Corey Moore (safety) and Devin Bowman (cornerback), and the dismissal of talented players like Nick Marshall (a defensive back at Georgia, now Auburn’s starting quarterback), have put an undue onus on true freshmen in the defensive backfield.
Dream Team II
Although not initially as highly touted, the 2012 class has surpassed the 2011 class in on-field production. Stars like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are well-established on offense. Meanwhile Leonard Floyd, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Jordan Jenkins are pillars of this young defense.
However, this class was completely devoid of outside receiving threats. With four veteran receivers (Mitchell, Bennett, Scott-Wesley and now Conley) injured and true freshmen still finding their way in routes, it would be nice to rely on a few second-year guys. Unfortunately, the 2012 recruiting class featured only one wide receiver: Blake Tibbs.
The Negative Impact of Imbalanced Recruiting Classes
Early NFL departures, transfers, academic suspensions and disciplinary dismissals have all hurt Georgia’s depth. But the most damaging factor to Georgia’s roster (outside of the aforementioned injuries) has been imbalanced recruiting classes.
In 2011, Georgia signed six defensive backs; four are still with the program. Only one, Damian Swann, has turned into a full-time starter. That same year, Georgia recruited four wide receivers. Three of them (Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and Conley) are regular starters.
The numbers were not there for these skill positions in 2012. The Dream Team II class featured only two recruits at defensive back: Sheldon Dawson and Harvey-Clemons. Dawson has registered just 16 tackles and primarily plays on special teams. Blake Tibbs, the Dawgs’ lone receiver in the class, has appeared in just one game, registering one catch for 11 yards against Missouri.
Hard Life for Coordinators
Georgia’s offense has largely stalled thanks to a vicious injury bug, but could this have been avoided? It’s certainly difficult to expect this type of trauma, but Mike Bobo likely regrets only bringing in one receiver in the 2012 class. It is undoubtedly frustrating to watch Aaron Murray throw the ball to true freshmen wide receivers who are still adjusting to the playbook, let alone the speed of the game.
It all comes down to trust. Trust in our guys to go make plays down the field, and let it rip. We as an offense have to be better with that, and continue to work in practice, and build that. I think once we let it rip and trust those guys, things will open up a little bit more for us.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Grantham is running out of excuses. When Georgia fell to 6-7 during his inaugural campaign, the story was that he needed different personnel to fit his 3-4 scheme. Last year, when the defense disappointed, most fans assumed the unit’s stars were looking ahead to the NFL.