Georgia football: 5 true freshmen set to have the biggest impact in 2020
It’s an annual exercise in the college football world: analyzing which incoming freshmen are poised to make the biggest splash.
Georgia certainly had a few first-year players of note in 2019. George Pickens broke out as a potential No. 1 receiver. Travon Walker impressed as part of a line that anchored one of the country’s elite run defenses. Nolan Smith anchored himself in the “Jack” linebacker rotation behind Azeez Ojulari.
Rewind to 2017, when a newcomer from metro Atlanta named Andrew Thomas began what ended up as a successful 3-year tenure as part of the Dawgs’ offensive line. And there seems to have been a certain quarterback who stepped in for an injured starter and led the Dawgs to the SEC title and National Championship Game.
There are more, but you get the picture.
Of course, not everyone gets the chance right away, outside of the 4 games they’re allowed to appear in before being required to redshirt. (There is no game restriction this year, by the way.) But with another highly-ranked class winding down practice ahead of the Sept. 26 season opener at Arkansas, and with a set of highly productive players moving on or set to move on at the end of this year, there’s a set of newcomers that Georgia fans should be keeping a close eye on during the 2020 season.
Here are 5 who stand the strongest chance of having a significant impact for the Dawgs during a shortened campaign:
Jermaine Burton, WR
Dominick Blaylock would have been one of the primary beneficiaries of Todd Monken’s offensive system. Unfortunately, an ACL tear during preseason, his second in less than 9 months, will mean a medical redshirt in 2020.
That opens the door for a player like Burton to come in and immediately contribute. Kirby Smart’s trust in another true freshman, George Pickens, paid off as he finished with 49 catches, 727 yards and 8 touchdowns, tops among receivers last year. And while Burton will likely be showcased in the slot, his speed could see him used as a kick returner.
Darnell Washington, TE
Florida State graduate transfer Tre’ McKitty was expected to boost a tight end corps that lacked consistency last season, but he’s recovering from a knee injury and might miss the opener at Arkansas and could be limited thereafter.
The hope is that Washington can fill the void. And it makes for an interesting battle between Washington, redshirt freshmen Ryland Goede and Brett Seither, and redshirt sophomore John FitzPatrick to get the call against the Razorback in case McKitty is sidelined.
Even if he’s beaten by one of the returning players, you have to think that there’s a place for Washington to get involved right out of the gate.
Broderick Jones, OT
Both sides of the offensive line will look different this year.
Along with Thomas, Georgia saw its other tackle, Isaiah Wilson, declare for the NFL Draft last year. Backup D’Marcus Hayes, a senior who played in 6 games in 2019, graduated.
Jamaree Salyer is the presumptive starter at right tackle, but Jones has the opportunity to make a case for himself to follow the same path as Thomas, who started every game on the right as a freshman before making a seamless transition to the left and missed just 2 games during his career.
Jones arrived as a 5-star recruit, the No. 11-ranked player in the country and No. 2 tackle.
Under the guidance of a highly respected position coach in Matt Luke — who groomed Ole Miss great Laremy Tunsil into a top 15 pick — the Atlanta-area product stands a strong bet to build a lasting legacy of his own.
Jalen Carter, DT
We’ll likely see Devonte Wyatt take the reins from Tyler Clark at the defensive tackle slot in a new-look 3-man front. But there’s plenty of holes to fill in the rotation, and Carter could find himself involved immediately.
Carter also is a 5-star recruit who was ranked No. 18 overall in the 2020 class.
He won’t start right out of the gate, but defensive coordinator Dan Lanning has already implied that there will be a chance for the Central Florida native to get his feet wet from the jump. With 12.0 sacks as a senior in high school, Carter has proven he can get to the quarterback, so Lanning and defensive line coach Tray Scott can call upon him primarily in 3rd down blitzing schemes.
MJ Sherman, OLB
Georgia has churned out its share of talented linebackers. The hope is that it’s found another one in Sherman, a Baltimore product considered one of the best at his position in high school. Ranked No. 33 overall, he just missed earning a coveted 5th star.
He figures to be a key component in the linebacker rotation in 2020, and depending on how things pan out, he could be in line to get the job at the “Sam” slot in 2021 as Walter Grant and Jermaine Johnson are playing their final seasons with the Dawgs this year.