Georgia football among the leaders in using transfer portal

This Nov. 21, 2020, file photo shows LSU tight end Arik Gilbert against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods, File)
This Nov. 21, 2020, file photo shows LSU tight end Arik Gilbert against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

ATHENS – Free agency has fully arrived in college football, and the Georgia Bulldogs have fully embraced it.

The Bulldogs on Tuesday welcomed two more elite players via the NCAA’s transfer portal. One is tight end Arik Gilbert, formerly of LSU. The other is cornerback Derion Kendrick, formerly of Clemson. One was a 5-star recruit, and the other was an All-ACC defensive back.

Add them to the offseason acquisitions of defensive backs Tykee Smith from West Virginia and Brandon Turnage from Alabama, and it becomes apparent that Georgia planned to address its most pressing positional needs for the coming season via proven players in the transfer portal.

For the Bulldogs, the “Age of the Portal” has worked out marvelously. In fact, Josh Pate of 247Sports thinks Georgia coach Kirby Smart might be working it better than anybody in college football.

Pate points out that only Georgia and Oklahoma have landed three of the top 20 players in 247Sports′ Top 100 ranking of players in the portal. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Gilbert ranks No. 3 on that list. Smith and Kendrick are Nos. 13 and 19, respectively. And Kendrick might’ve been higher if not for pending legal issues.

“Georgia has dominated the transfer portal this year as much as anybody,” said Pate, who hosts a daily video podcast on 247Sports and YouTube. “And it’s not just random kids at random positions. There was an obvious purpose with the way Kirby went about it. It reminds me of when the early signing period came around, and Georgia really owned that first cycle. Everybody else caught up after that, but Georgia was kind of ahead of the curve on that, too.”

Together with the apparent subtraction of another player – the AJC confirmed Wednesday that defensive back Daran Branch of Amite, La., has left the team but is not in the portal – Georgia is left with 84 scholarships for the coming season. So there’s still one to play with.

It also leaves the Bulldogs’ fan base with a “national championship-or-bust mentality.” Pate isn’t necessarily throwing water on that.

“This roster is capable of redefining what Georgia football is,” Pate said. “It certainly brings with it a ton of pressure, as this is the most title-ready squad Kirby Smart has fielded in Athens.”

The upside of working the portal for players is that teams tend to have a better idea of what they’re getting. Even before Gilbert went to LSU from Marietta High -- as 247Sports’ highest-rated tight end in history -- the Tigers couldn’t be assured that his skills would translate to production in the SEC. But after catching 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns in eight games, it’s clear that they do.

Gilbert is expected to play wide receiver for the Bulldogs, who lost star George Pickens from the split-end position his spring.

“He’s a very diverse player that they can use in multiple different ways,” said Terrence Edwards, a former Georgia player who trained Gilbert at Wide Receiver Academy. “Any smart offensive coordinator, which Todd Monken is, can put him in situations that you can use his height, speed and catch radius to make explosive plays.”

In contrast, Kendrick was a work in progress when he arrived at Clemson from Rock Hill, S.C. He signed with the Tigers as a wide receiver but was converted to cornerback in his second season. Since then, Kendrick started 23 games the past two seasons and earned first-team All-ACC honors last season.

Kendrick, a rising senior, also represents the potential downside of the portal as well. He arrives with considerable baggage.

Kendrick was dismissed by Clemson after he was arrested in his hometown of Rock Hill on March 12. He was discovered by police asleep in his girlfriend’s car with a 19-mm handgun in his lap. He was charged with unlawful possession of a gun and simple possession of marijuana. The gun charges against Kendrick are still pending, according to the clerk of York County Criminal Court. A court date still has not been set. The status of the marijuana charge was unknown.

Georgia and Clemson, quite notably, open the season against each other in the Duke’s Mayo Classic in Charlotte, N.C. Kendrick changing sides hasn’t escaped the Tigers’ notice.

“I think it probably stings some, knowing how talented a player Kendrick is and how much of a factor he can be in the opener,” said Larry Williams, who covers Clemson for Tiger Illustrated. “Clemson fans grew tired of his routine trips to Dabo Swinney’s doghouse, and late last season he didn’t look inspired on a regular basis. But there’s no doubt that Kendrick is a differential talent and, when motivated, one of the best players on the field.”

Georgia’s latest acquisitions arrived in Athens this week with most of the other players who will comprise the 2021 football team. NCAA rules allow players to report to campus for eight weeks of “required activity” ahead of preseason camp. Summer classes at UGA start June 11.

Gilbert’s academic status was unknown after he left LSU with two games remaining last fall. At one point this offseason, he was committed to Florida but never enrolled. He remained at home in Marietta before settling on Georgia, where plans to enroll for summer semester.

No academic snafus are expected.

“He wouldn’t be there now if he wasn’t able to be admitted into school,” said Edwards, who last spoke to Gilbert on Tuesday. “I don’t see any hurdles in that area. I think he’s going to start summer school pretty soon and get rocking and rolling with team activities soon. He’s settling in with the others now.”

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