Georgia football: 5 most important returning players in 2020
Like all programs, Georgia experienced its share of attrition after the 2019 season. But if it felt more evident than usual, that’s because it probably was.
While the core of the defense outside of Michael Barnett, Tae Crowder, Tyler Clark, David Marshall and J.R. Reed is set to return, the other side of the ball saw a large amount of turnover as 10 offensive players departed. Five players opted to declare for the NFL Draft, 4 players graduated or exhausted their eligibility, and one, Cade Mays, transferred out of the program.
With the mantra echoed around the football offices and the practice fields set to be “next man up” starting with the beginning of spring workouts on March 17, a look at the 2020 roster shows that there’s plenty of players coming back that are more than capable of filling some big holes.
Here are 5 of the Bulldogs’ most important returning players:
George Pickens, WR
One thing surprised me when looking at the Georgia media guide while researching another article: did you know that the Bulldogs have only had 1 receiver in program history break the 1,000-yard mark? It was Terrence Edwards in 2002.
That might very well change in 2020 if what George Pickens showed us in 2019 holds up. In 12 games, he hauled in 49 catches for 727 yards and 8 touchdowns, tops among other receivers in all 3 categories. And with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken poised to bring his “air raid” offense to Athens, there will be plenty of opportunities for the rising sophomore to become presumed starter Jamie Newman’s No. 1 target.
The only thing stopping Pickens, really, might be himself, but a few disciplinary issues on and off the field can hopefully be chalked up to freshman immaturity and he can return as a more mature, focused player.
Zamir White, RB
It’s Zamir White’s time to step into the spotlight for the Bulldogs.
With a torn ACL and a year spent behind D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien in his rearview mirror, we’ll finally get a chance to see a fully healthy White be ready to potentially step into the starting running back role. The “Zeus” era, in effect, began in the Sugar Bowl, where he ran the ball 18 times for 92 yards and a touchdown against Baylor.
Can White continue the tradition of great Georgia running backs in recent years that have included Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and his predecessor? We’re not far off from beginning to get the answer to that question.
Jamaree Salyer, RT
We’ve discussed the turnover on Georgia’s offensive line numerous times: 3 players have been lost to the NFL Draft, with 1 more transferring out.
Salyer, along with Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland, will be the centerpieces of a new-look front 5 in 2020, but it’s Salyer that has the tallest task ahead of him as he’ll replace a probable Day 1 draft pick in Isaiah Wilson at right tackle. Having played guard as well in high school and slotted in at backup center in Athens, his versatility, along with his experience, play in his favor, but you can’t help but wonder if he can shake the inevitable comparisons to Wilson and make the right tackle position his own.
Azeez Ojulari, OLB
After seeing sparse time during a redshirt year in 2018, Ojulari stepped in and had the immediate impact he was expected to make, leading the team with 5.5 sacks. In 2020, he’ll help lead what should be an improved pass rush for a Bulldogs defense that ranked toward the middle of the SEC in sacks last year.
While Monty Rice and Jermaine Johnson will provide plenty of experience in the linebacking corps, Ojulari has a chance to continue to make his own mark. If he’s able to leverage his strong 2019 into an even better 2020, he could even find himself receiving some draft looks following the season.
Devonte Wyatt, DT
With Tyler Clark’s graduation, Wyatt’s return for his final year of eligibility is an enormous boost to a defensive line that will also feature nose tackle Jordan Davis and defensive end Malik Herring. Wyatt spent most of the time spelling Clark upfront, but in 2020, as his playing time increases, he’ll be counted on not only for his run-stopping ability but as a key part of the pass rush.
That’s great news for what was one of the most dominant D-lines in the country, which, despite Clark’s departure, appears that it will pick up right where it left off.