Georgia football: Projecting the Dawgs' 2021 starting lineup
On New Year’s Day 1981, Georgia defeated Notre Dame 17-10 to polish off an undefeated season and secure its spot as the consensus national champion.
Forty years later, that’s still the program’s last title. Following a pandemic-marred 2020 season, though, the buzz is about as strong as it has been surrounding the Dawgs.
And it’s not hard to see why.
Outside of offensive lineman Ben Cleveland and tight end Tre’ McKitty heading for the NFL Draft, all of Georgia’s primary offensive starters are back.
Leading the way: QB JT Daniels, RB Zamir White and WR George Pickens. This offense could threaten the record books after the Bulldogs ranked 5th in the SEC in scoring, 6th in total yards, and 7th and 5th in passing and rushing yardage, respectively.
And while the same can’t be said for the defense — Georgia loses both starting cornerbacks, a defensive end, a safety, and several linebackers — it’s a unit that’s traditionally been one of the best in the SEC under Kirby Smart and his staff.
Here’s how I project the Dawgs’ 2021 starting lineup to look:
- QB: JT Daniels
- RB: Zamir White
- WR1: George Pickens
- WR2: Kearis Jackson/Dominick Blaylock
- WR3: Jermaine Burton
- LT: Jamaree Salyer
- LG: Clay Webb
- C: Warren Ericson
- RG: Justin Shaffer
- RT: Warren McClendon
- TE: Darnell Washington
The skinny: The return of Shaffer and Salyer is obviously good news. The line still saw a couple of key departures in Trey Hill and Ben Cleveland. Webb might be a bit of a question mark; he doesn’t have the experience some other members of the front 5 have, so his progress is worth watching. Salyer and McClendon will lock down either tackle spot, but don’t be surprised to see 5-star true freshman Amarius Mims in the rotation. Mims is massive — 6-7, 315 with room to grow — and was ranked the No. 7 player nationally and No. 1 in Georgia in the 2021 recruiting class.
The most significant thing to note is the depth Georgia has at running back and wide receiver. Zamir While is the unquestioned starter and James Cook is likely RB2, but the big battle to watch is who gets the lion’s share of the snaps between Kenny McIntosh, a healthy Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards.
Burton impressed as a true freshman and, with Pickens looking to boost his draft stock and Blaylock returning after missing last season, he’ll be part of a dangerous WR corps that includes Kearis Jackson and a pair of soon-to-be sophomores in speedster Arian Smith and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint. Dominick Blaylock certainly deserves mention as well; I think he and Jackson will essentially be co-starters due to the injury history of Blaylock and the need to ease him back into action. Demetris Robertson, who hasn’t yet made a decision on 2021, hasn’t been the same receiver he was at Cal, but hopefully, the switch is finally flipped if he comes back.
Washington is the X-factor, and as he continues to build chemistry with Daniels in spring and fall camp and during game action, he’s just another pass-catching option that Daniels will have at his disposal.
- DT: Devonte Wyatt
- DE: Travon Walker
- NT: Jordan Davis
- Jack: Adam Anderson
- Mike: Nakobe Dean
- Money: Quay Walker
- Sam: Nolan Smith
- CB1: Kelee Ringo
- CB2: Jalen Kimber or Ameer Speed
- FS: Lewis Cine
- SS: Christopher Smith
- Star: Latavious Brini
The skinny: Things get very tricky here as this is set to be a new-look secondary with both cornerback slots and the Star position presenting the biggest holes heading into 2021. Georgia could pencil in Speed, given his overall experience, but I expect a stiff battle in camp for him to start. It’s possible that Georgia’s cornerback corps against Clemson could consist of a sophomore and 2nd-year freshman receiving their first starts.
Moving up front, the Dawgs faced the possibility of losing their entire defensive line to the NFL Draft, but Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis returned. The defensive front has been a strength under Smart and should continue to be in 2021.
At Jack linebacker, it’s simply next man up with Azeez Ojulari’s impressive career coming to a close. Adam Anderson has been a strong option behind Ojulari and will be fine. The same can be said for Quay Walker, who’s replacing Monty Rice.
Overall, there might be a few concerns in the secondary, but this group has the talent and depth to avoid a huge drop-off.
Final thoughts …
As you might expect, this projection is subject to change. Much of this is “next man up” as the Dawgs have enjoyed depth at some key positions, but the big question mark will be how the secondary shows next year — it will be tested out of the gate against perennial title favorite Clemson.
The offense will obviously be the main draw in 2021 and should be able to compensate for some of the soft spots on the other side of the ball. Unquestionably, this will be the most talent Smart has had here since coming to Athens.
Georgia hasn’t led the SEC in scoring since 2014, when the Dawgs scored 537 points and averaged 41.3.
Daniels is back along with a full complement of wide receivers and running backs, and if this group is clicking with the offensive line, there’s no reason at worst it can find itself in the top 4.