ATHENS – If this were the NFL, the Georgia Bulldogs would be in the middle of the draft, free agency and preparing for the playoffs. But it’s not.
It’s Power 5 college football – aka NFL Junior – and the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are flourishing in it. That fact was driven home once again Wednesday as Georgia closed the deal on what will be another top-5 class. As of mid-afternoon, the Bulldogs’ Class of 2023 was ranked No. 2 in the 247Sports composite, well behind No. 1 Alabama but well ahead of the next tier of teams.
This will be the seventh consecutive top-5 class for coach Kirby Smart and his staff. That they have been able to maintain such consistent excellence through the advent of name, image and likeness (NIL) and the NCAA transfer portal makes the accomplishment that much more remarkable.
“I don’t even try anymore to analyze all the different things that go on,” Smart said during a midday press conference that was conducted before the class had been finalized. “I just try to be good at it and good at managing it. It’s not something I have a lot of control over.”
No, what Smart has control of is Georgia’s roster, and he’s managed like a well-run, Wall Street hedge fund. That is, he has made sure the Bulldogs have maximized their investments, whether it be in high-end 5-star recruits or under-valued 3-star prospects. Utilizing one of the largest recruiting budgets in Division I athletics, Georgia has taken a national approach to this annual exercise. Meanwhile, an extensive support staff searches for the overlooked prospect that might be borderline in terms of measurables but grades over-the-top in the areas of grit and intelligence during the evaluation process.
“A successful signing day is defined four years from now,” Smart said. “I look backwards on that. I leave it to (media) to rate them because I can’t compare somebody else’s to ours because I don’t really look at somebody else’s. I only compare ours to what they do when they leave, not what they do when they arrive.”
The Bulldogs had some strong points to recruit on this past year. Not only are they the reigning national champions in football and currently the nation’s top-ranked team, but they’re also coming off a year in which a record 15 players were taken in the NFL draft, including five first-rounders.
The one element that all of the recruiting classes under Smart have exhibited is a strong emphasis on defensive talent, and this one is no different. Georgia signed 5-star outside linebacker Samuel M’Pemba from the St. Louis area, and 5-star Damon Wilson from Nokomis, Florida. Eight of the 11 top-rated players in the class, according to the composite rankings of 247Sports, play on defense. The Bulldogs landed the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 linebackers in the nation, building on a growing reputation as “LBU” under position coach Glenn Schumann. As usual, they went heavy on defensive backs, signing four with more possibly on the way.
There is some offensive pop in the class as well. Wide receiver Tyler Williams of Lakeland, Fla., is described by analysts as a prototypical NFL first-rounder, standing at 6-foot-3 and exhibiting well-developed skills for the position. The rest of the group also draw high marks, especially in the area raw speed, including a pair of verified 4.3-second, 40-yard sprinters and all three carrying high 4-star ratings.
“They put all them (receivers) right beside my locker,” senior slot receiver Kearis Jackson said with a laugh. “That’s the funny thing. They’re trying to get me up and out of here.
Thanks to the work of Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington these past two seasons, tight ends seem to be lining up at the gate into the Butts-Mehre football complex. With the Nos. 3 and 8-ranked tight ends already in the fold, the Bulldogs are in full pursuit of the Nos. 1 and 5 for the February signing period.
There’s room for everybody, Georgia insists.
“Me and Darnell are obviously different,” Bowers said. “He’ll play ‘Y’ and I’ll play ‘F’ most of the time when we’re in together. Sometimes we play the same position. … What they tell the recruits is, ‘if you can play, we’ll get you in.’ That’s what they told me.”
Perhaps the most notable thing about Georgia’s class of 2023 is how many of its members already are in Athens. Nine players have been accepted academically and therefore can work out with the team. They won’t be able to play until next season, but they’re already contributing as members of the scout team.
At least 14 “midyear enrollees” will be in the fold before winter classes begin Jan. 9, and the number very well could go up from there. Georgia brought in a record 18 early enrollees last year.
“They certainly help us,” Smart said. “This time of year you have injuries, you have guys out. We’ve had multiple guys that have been in and out of practice. It gives you depth; it gives you the ability to go two-spot; it gives you the ability to get a better look. Let’s be honest, some of these guys are really high athletes that are fast, that have twitch. They jump in.”
In all, there are 24 new Bulldogs. Among them are six linebackers, four offensive linemen, one running back, one defensive lineman and one place-kicker. There could another running back in Kyron Jones, a late flip from N.C. State. For now, though, UGA lists Jones as an “athlete.”
Missing entirely from the 2023 class is a quarterback. That’s notable considering sixth-year senior Stetson Bennett undoubtedly will be moving on after this season.
At one time the position seemed a priority as Georgia was doggedly pursued the overall No. 1-rated recruit in Arch Manning. But Manning signed with Texas as expected Wednesday and the Bulldogs haven’t seemed pressed to find another one – just yet.
“The portal is full of them,” Smart said. “There’s going to be multiple (quarterbacks) in every year. … We’re very pleased with what we have in our quarterback room. We think we’ve got three quarterbacks that are going to be really good.”
Georgia returns junior Carson Beck, redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff and freshman Gunner Stockton next season.
As for this year, the Bulldogs are scouring the portal for other possible additions. They’re known to be pursuing Jackson State player Travis Hunter, a former No. 1 recruit, as well as Texas A&M defensive back Smoke Bouie. Georgia was heavily involved in the high school recruitment of both, who have since entered the portal.
The Bulldogs were one of the only programs in Power 5 football who did not pull in a player from the portal last year. Smart sounded like he would be fine if that were the case again, especially if he keeps landing recruiting classes like this latest one.
“I’m really fired up about this group,” Smart said. “They are high character. The one thing in the coaching business you better value now more than ever is high character, tough, hard-nosed football players that are coming here with an understanding that they’re committed to excellence in terms of classroom, competitiveness, toughness, loving football. These guys understand that.”
GEORGIA SIGNEES (24)
Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Hometown
Joenel Aguero, DB, 5-11, 205, Lynn, Mass.
C.J. Allen, ILB, 6-1, 225, Barnesville
Troy Bowles, ILB, 6-0, 205, Tampa, Fla.
Anthony Evans, WR, 5-11, 165, Converse, Texas
Monroe Freeling, OL, 6-7, 300, Isle of Palms, S.C.
A.J. Harris, DB, 6-1, 190, Phenix City, Ala.
Daniel Harris, DB, 6-2, 175, Miami
Gabe Harris, OLB, 6-4, 250, Thomasville
Yazeed Haynes, WR, 6-1, 170, Philadelphia
Bo Hughley, OL, 6-7, 290, Fairburn
Jamaal Jarrett, DL, 6-5, 350, Greensboro, N.C.
Kyron Jones, ATH, 6-0, 200, Charlotte, N.C.
Lawson Luckie, TE, 6-3, 240, Norcross
Joshua Miller, OL, 6-4, 310, Chesterfield, Va.
Samuel M’Pemba, OLB, 6-3, 245, Olivette, Mo.
Chris Peal, DB, 6-1, 190, Charlotte, N.C.
Justyn Rhett, DB, 6-0, 190, Las Vegas
Roderick Robinson, RB, 6-0, 235, Imperial, Calif.
Kelton Smith, OL, 6-4, 330, Columbus
Pearce Spurlin, TE, 6-7, 240, Rosemary Beach, Fla.
Tyler Williams, WR, 6-3, 205, Lakeland, Fla.
Damon Wilson, OLB, 6-4, 235, Nokomis, Fla.
Raylen Wilson, ILB, 6-1, 225, Tallahassee, Fla.
Peyton Woodring, K, 5-10, 175, Lafayette, La.
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