Kirby Smart wants to see his players cut it loose on the field. But on the recruiting trail? He’d rather pump the brakes on that Autobahn.
“I don’t think enough is done on a kid’s senior year,” Smart said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “I think what you will find in the SEC is maybe 80 or 90 percent of the team’s spots are full going into the senior season where I feel like I need to look and see what they do their senior season.”
Georgia can sign maybe 24 players in its 2020 class. If so, that will require some belt-tightening for the best available players to fit under the NCAA’s 85-man student-athlete limit for football.
The Bulldogs have 14 public commitments. Alabama has 20. LSU has 20. Florida has 18. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have 21 and 22 pledges, respectively.
The contrarians out there to Smart’s view might read those elements and laugh. They expect him to say that. The Bulldogs have recruited better than any program in the country over the first three full cycles of Smart’s time in Athens.
Georgia has signed an average class that rated No. 2 overall for the 247Sports Composite ratings since 2017. The program that reels in as many good players as anyone would want to do more picking-and-choosing these days.
This stance also pays attention to the way the college football recruiting landscape has changed since Smart took the Georgia job in December 2015.
There is a new NCAA signing calendar. It means April, May and June official visits before a prospect’s senior year. It created the early signing period. Georgia now also recruits off a national footprint.
“It has changed from the first year to now and it has a lot to do with the (early) signing date,” Smart said. “It definitely changed everything. It sped everything up. It made it where if you don’t sign guys in December there may not be guys available.”
He compared it to a Fourth of July grocery store run for bread, chips, ground beef and hot dogs. Nobody wants to see empty shelves that day.
Smart cites one that got away
Smart brought up former Cobb County product Bradley Chubb this week. Chubb could have been a homegrown Bulldog out of Hillgrove High School. Chubb, a cousin of former Georgia great Nick Chubb, signed with N.C. State.
Chubb weighed only about 230 pounds coming out of Hillgrove in 2014. Just a 3-star recruit, he wound up as a first-team All-American after setting the Wolfpack record for career sacks, with 26.
“Bradley Chubb jumps out to me,” Smart said. “He was a kid who was probably under-recruited. But when you watch his senior tape, he was a good senior player. He missed out on some opportunities with SEC schools.”
When Chubb left college, he was a chiseled 275 pounds. The Denver Broncos selected him with the fifth pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. He legitimized that pick with a banner rookie season that included 12 sacks.
He was a big miss for everyone in the SEC. No matter what those stars said. No matter that he finished high school as the nation’s No. 734 prospect for 2014.
But that’s easier said than done.
“I would like to be able to evaluate guys longer, but once you have a player that wants to commit that is a really good player I think you have got to take that,” Smart said. “Especially if they have got great academics. Because those two go hand-in-hand at the University of Georgia. You don’t necessarily want to be full, but we want to be able to go out and look at kids their senior year and find out how they are playing.”
No public commits for 2021 yet? Is that a big deal?
The expected 2020 talent haul should address the needs for the 2020 and 2021 teams at RB, TE and the defensive front. That means future Bulldogs can now be vetted a little more.
It does resemble the days when the Alabama dynasty seemed to be in expansion mode every February. The Bulldogs might also seek to avoid early and sometimes premature evaluations for in-state prospects in the future.
They do not have a single public 2021 commit at this time.
How unique is that? Check this trend out along Smart’s first four recruiting classes:
2017: S Richard LeCounte (5-star) commits 13 months before enrolling early, but did so less than a week after Smart was first hired.
2018: OT Max Wray (4-star) commits in March 2016. That was almost 33 months before he could sign early. Wray actually backed off his commitment a year later and eventually signed with Ohio State.
2019: OT Luke Griffin (finished as a 3-star) committed 30 months before he could sign early. He eventually backed off his commitment to sign with Missouri.
2020: DT Nazir Stackhouse (4-star) commits on the day Georgia claims its first SEC Championship since 2005. It currently stands as 24 months in advance of the first day he will be able to sign early.
The first day that the 2021 class can sign is now just 16 months away. It certainly looks like Smart is following through on that notion that he wants to slow the evaluation process.
Those two de-commitments from those first three classes seems like a good reason why he should do just that.
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