A whole bunch of talent is heading out of Athens after Friday’s big news day. Georgia junior running back Elijah Holyfield, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, and tight end Isaac Nauta all announced they were leaving a year early for the NFL.
Throw in the transfer announcements of true freshman quarterback Justin Fields and tight end Luke Ford, and that’s a lot of talent leaving the offensive side of the ball.
Thankfully, several years of great recruiting classes have the shelves well-stocked. Sure, it would have been nice if some or all of them had stayed, but that’s what happens when you recruit — and then play — at a very high level. All of those 4-star and 5-star recruits come to college with NFL aspirations, so this is just a natural part of the process.
“We wish the best to Mecole Hardman, Elijah Holyfield, Isaac Nauta and Riley Ridley as they pursue their careers at the next level,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said in a statement. “All four of these juniors contributed significantly to our success during the last two seasons and we look forward to them making the best out of their shot at the NFL.”
The Fields (Ohio State) and Ford (Illinois) transfers weren’t unexpected, either. Fields is leaving in search of more playing time — which is no guarantee — and Ford, an Illinois native, wanted to be closer to home.
So where does that leave the Bulldogs at those four positions heading into 2019? Things might change a little with February’s next recruiting window, but probably not very much. Let’s take a look:
- Players departing: Elijah Holyfield (early departure)
- Top players returning: D’Andre Swift, James Cook, Brian Herrien, Prather Hudson, Ian Donald-McIntyre
- Newcomers: Zamir White (injured in 2018), Kenny McIntosh
- The skinny: Holyfield had a big junior season, passing 1,000 yards Tuesday in the Sugar Bowl. It was a bit of a surprise that he had such a big year because Swift was expected to carry the biggest load. You can’t ever fault a running back for leaving early because their shelf life is often shorter. Combine that with a running back room still loaded with talent, and it makes sense for Holyfield to move on. He’s a hard runner and will do well in the NFL. Swift and Cook could very well be the pair that puts up 1,000-yard seasons next year, and it’s going to be interesting to see how healthy Zamir White will be come September.
- Players departing: Mecole Hardman (early departure), Riley Ridley (early departure), Terry Godwin (graduation)
- Top players returning: Jeremiah Holloman, Tyler Simmons, Demetris Robertson, Trey Blount, Kearis Jackson, Tommy Bush
- Newcomers: Dominick Blaylock
- The skinny: Hardman had a big year, both as a receiver and a return man, so his departure was no surprise. Ridley’s decision was, but he’s had some big games and has a big brother (Calvin Ridley) who’s having success in the league. The moves leave Georgia a bit thin at wide receiver, so it’ll be interesting to see if Jackson and Bush, who both redshirted this year, are ready to contribute. Everyone is eager to see 5-star recruit Dominick Blaylock, too.
- Players departing: Justin Fields (transfer)
- Top players returning: Jake Fromm
- Newcomers: Dwan Mathis, Stetson Bennett
- The skinny: The maybe became a yes Friday when Fields decided to transfer to Ohio State. With Fields out of the picture, it really became big that the Bulldogs were able to flip and get Mathis during the Early Signing Period. Here’s to hoping that Fromm can stay healthy all year in 2019, and if he does, he’ll certainly be a Heisman Trophy candidate. The youngsters will have to learn quickly though, and be ready to play, just in case.
- Players departing: Isaac Nauta (early departure), Luke Ford (transfer)
- Top players returning: Charlie Woerner, John Fitzpatrick
- Newcomers: Ryland Goede
- The skinny: Nauta has an NFL-ready body and will do well in the league, so it’s also no surprise to see him go. Georgia probably could have used him more in its high-powered offense, but the scouts certainly saw enough. Woerner played well this year, too, registering a career-high 11 catches and is more than ready to step in as the starter next year. We could see big things out of him. It’s too bad that Ford got homesick, because coaches liked what they saw out of him. He could have been a good player for the Bulldogs.