With a week to go in the 2016 recruiting cycle, we've reached the stretch run.
It's the most critical week of Kirby Smart's young career as the head coach of the Bulldogs, with in-home visits with top prospects and the final recruiting weekend before national signing day looming.
He has to knock it out of the park, because this week—and this class—can determine how quickly the program rebounds and how high its ceiling is.
|State of Georgia Top-100 Prospects|
This isn't the ordinary crop of high school talent in the Peach State—this is one of the best classes in recent history. According to 247Sports, eleven of the top 100 players in the country are from Georgia, which is the most the state has produced over the last five years.
Brown, a 6'3", 317-pound monster from Buford, visited Georgia last weekend but will visit Tennessee this weekend prior to signing on Feb. 3. The 247Sports crystal ball still lists Georgia as his leader, and Smart needs to make sure that lead is as wide as possible before Brown heads to Rocky Top and the quiet period hits.
Derrick Brown5️⃣ @DerrickBrownAU5
Thanks Athens y'all showed us a great time 🔴⚫️⚪️ https://t.co/PBcX5x9QcS2016-1-24 20:00:19
Brown would be a tremendous addition to a defensive line that added Trent Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter last year and landed 4-star defensive tackle Julian Rochester—who enrolled early—this year.
Smart's new-look defensive line is already shaping up well, and Brown could make it comparable to the one that helped Alabama win the 2015 national title.
Hardman is one of the most versatile players in the country and recently told Kipp Adams and Keith Neibuhr on VSporto's SEC Recruiting Buzz that he intends to play defensive back at the next level. He loves the staff, especially the tradition of winning that Smart brings to Athens.
He told Adams and Neibuhr:
I think the coach everybody wanted to see get hired was [Smart]. It is his alma mater, and he knows how Georgia plays. I think he's going to do a great job with them. Especially coming from Alabama and the recruiting he does, he's going to do great in that aspect. He's a really cool, laid back coach. Plus, coming from Alabama with a tradition of winning, all he knows is how to do is win.
This is the wild card.
Hardman's long-term home is likely on the defensive side of the ball, but his ability to make things happen on offense and special teams could help the transition for Smart and the new staff in the short term.
Pair Hardman up with slot weapon Isaiah McKenzie and rising sophomore receiver Terry Godwin, and that's a lot of speed and quickness for opposing defenses to handle.
Georgia might be trending down for Robertson as Notre Dame becomes more of a factor, according to the 247Sports crystal ball, but Smart's recruiting prowess plus the home state draw for the 5'11", 175-pound Savannah native could swing him back to the Classic City on signing day.
If Georgia can land two out of those three, it could vault from the ninth spot in the current team rankings to the top five and possibly higher.
But wait, there's more.
E.J. Price, a 6'6", 311-pound 4-star from Lawrenceville, is visiting Athens this weekend after taking a trip to Auburn last weekend, and 4-star defensive tackle Michail Carter from Jackson will also check out the Bulldogs. Plus, there's still time for some late flips in the topsy-turvy home stretch of the recruiting cycle.
This could be huge for Georgia. Transition years for new staffs typically come with temporary downturns in recruiting, at least for one year. If Smart can close strong in-state, that lag could be a myth and be replaced by a recruiting upturn with players who will pay immediate dividends for the Bulldogs.
By closing with a few Peach State products, Smart could post one of the most impressive recruiting classes in the country, given the circumstances.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.