ATHENS – As Georgia began preparations for its immediate future – a College Football Playoff semifinal against Michigan on Dec. 31 – the Bulldogs also were working on some long-term plans as Wednesday marked the opening of early signing period in recruiting.
As for that second part, it’s hard to imagine things going much better for Georgia. Entering the day as 247Sports.com’s No. 1-ranked team in recruiting, the Bulldogs fell to No. 3 by the end of the day.
However, several high-profile recruiting targets were holding off on announcements until after the New Year and some will wait until the February signing period. As of Wednesday afternoon, though, Georgia was raking.
The 22 signees the Bulldogs had at that point included six 5-star-rated prospects. The latest 5-star to make his announcement Wednesday was Marvin Jones, an edge rusher out of American Heritage High in Fort Lauderdale who chose Georgia over Alabama.
Jones is the son of former FSU star Marvin “Shade Tree” Jones, who won the Butkus and Lombardi awards playing for the Seminoles in 1992. Jones Jr. picked the Dogs over Alabama, Florida State, and USC.
Jones’ announcement came shortly after Georgia heard that Kamari Wilson, a 5-star safety and longtime lean, had chosen the Florida Gators instead. But while the Bulldogs’ missed on Wilson, they didn’t miss on many other defensive backs.
Of the Georgia recruits who sent in their signed paperwork Wednesday, five of them were DBs. Coach Kirby Smart said he’d sign more if he could.
“We don’t have enough DBs now,” Smart said during a news conference at Georgia’s football complex early Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know how many we have in right now, but we don’t have enough. We’re still lower than we’ve ever been in terms of defensive backs. … We have more leaving than we have coming, and we were already below (what’s needed). So, if you have more leaving than you have coming, you’re actually negative net-gain.”
Perhaps, but the quality of this particular group had recruiting experts talking about it being the Bulldogs’ greatest defensive backfield hauls in history and definitely the best in the nation this year.
Three of the defensive backs Georgia signed carried 5-star ratings -- Malaki Starks of Jefferson, Jaheim Singletary of Jacksonville, Fla., and Julian Humphrey of Webster, Texas. Meanwhile, Georgia was awaiting word from 4-star Deyon Bouie of Bainbridge.
The Bulldogs also were set to sign commitment 4-star Marquis Groves-Killebrew of Acworth, but it appeared that he may be headed to Texas A&M instead.
Georgia’s chief selling point was “need help, fast.” Many of the defensive backs who will face No. 2 Michigan in the Orange Bowl will be moving on after this season. Starters Derion Kendrick, Christopher Smith, Ameer Speed and Latavious Brini are graduating seniors.
Meanwhile, junior safety Lewis Cine is getting high-enough, pre-draft grades to consider making the jump to the NFL. The Bulldogs also could turn to the transfer portal for additional help.
Georgia infamously lost a total of eight defensive backs off the 2020 team, between early NFL departures and transfers.
“Right now, we’re not able to do some of things we want to do, which includes having six DBs on the field,” Smart said. “I’m really proud of the DBs in this class, but we’re not anywhere near where we need to be. You take the seven that left last year, then throw in the seniors, the core Georgia guys that have been here, and that’s 13 or 14 guys in a one-year window. So, in my mind, we’re still short on numbers.”
It wasn’t all about defensive backs in the Bulldogs’ class of 2022, of course. Georgia also signed a 5-star defensive lineman in Mykel Williams and at least four other players in linebacker Jalon Walker, defensive lineman Bear Alexander, running back Branson Robinson, quarterback Gunner Stockton and tight end Oscar Delp, who were assigned 5-star grades from at least one of the recruiting services. Georgia also addressed some concerns at wide receiver with a late flip from speedster Chandler “CJ” Smith, 4-star De’Nylon Morrissette and two others.
Several reports Wednesday had the Bulldogs leading for another 5-star prospect in edge rusher Marvin Jones of Fort Lauderdale. Jones attends American Heritage, Sony Michel’s alma mater and a school at which Georgia has had a lot of recruiting success over the years.
Regardless of how it shakes out, in the final analysis, the Bulldogs should not be losing ground to any team from a talent-acquisition standpoint. Alabama and Texas A&M were the only other schools in position to compete with Georgia for the top spot.
If it holds up, the Bulldogs will have finished No. 1 in the nation in recruiting in three of the past five years, with an average class ranking of 2.6 since Smart became their coach in 2016.
“Excited about these guys joining us; another great group,” Smart said. “It took a very hard-working staff to bring this into one group. It’s still not over and we’ll still have some guys sign in February and all that. But I’m excited about this group, which was probably one of the ‘funnest’ I’ve gotten to recruit.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were due back on the practice field Wednesday afternoon. Georgia got in a light practice this past Saturday and a “heavy one” in full pads Tuesday. With UGA’s conclusion of final exams on Wednesday – and recruiting mostly done -- the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (12-1) now can turn their full attention to 12-1 Michigan and the Orange Bowl.
“It’ll be one of my last college football games, win or lose, so going to Miami is great,” said running back James Cook, a senior from Miami who was less than an hour from completing his last exam at Georgia. “Getting to play in my hometown and where I grew up at is awesome.”