JT Daniels to Georgia looks like a weird move, but here's why I think both parties made it happen
Another day, another story involving Georgia and a 5-star quarterback transfer.
This time, however, Kirby Smart is importing, not exporting.
The reports that USC transfer JT Daniels was heading to Georgia — that was later confirmed with his announcement — were met with a little head-scratching. The Dawgs, of course, already landed coveted grad transfer quarterback Jamie Newman. The former Wake Forest signal-caller is one of the early Heisman Trophy favorites.
So why did Georgia recruit Daniels? And on the flip side, why did Daniels choose Georgia?
For what it’s worth, we’re digging a little deeper than the obvious “Smart is trying to get as much talent as possible on his roster” thing. Duh. Daniels was a Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017, the No. 2 pro-style QB in the class behind Trevor Lawrence, and he performed well as USC’s starter as a true freshman before a season-ending injury in the opener of his sophomore season gave way for Kedon Slovis to emerge. Of course he’d have a market.
There’s no doubt the talent is there:
From Georgia’s perspective, there’s already a full depth chart. Newman is the assumed starter with 2019 backup Stetson Bennett IV, redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis and true freshman Carson Beck. Mathis had a potentially life-threatening brain cyst a year ago and redshirted as a true freshman while Beck’s reps as an early enrollee have obviously been relatively non-existent. Both are former 4-star quarterbacks.
But the current elephant in the room is what this means for Newman, and why Georgia sought another transfer.
Well, it’s possible this doesn’t change anything for Newman’s status as the perceived starter. If it is really a move to add depth behind him, it makes sense. Newman is expected to be running a new offense behind 4 new starters on the offensive line with a new offensive coordinator with a new offensive scheme. Georgia cannot afford to worry about his durability. Newman is a willing runner, though you can bet it would make the coaching staff feel better about those opportunities if there was some sort of proven quarterback depth behind him.
And that’s assuming Daniels is eligible. As we know, that’s completely up in the air.
The NCAA’s ruling to push back the 1-time transfer exemption rule meant that Daniels would have to apply for a waiver in order to receive immediate eligibility. From his perspective, that ruling could have absolutely impacted which schools he was looking at. Whether it was COVID-19 related or not, it’s been a somewhat delayed process after there was buzz that Tennessee could swoop in and sign Daniels to be the team’s immediate starter in 2020.
Georgia might not be too worried about Daniels’ 2020 eligibility. If he’s eligible, great. That’s more competition for Newman, and it’s a backup plan if he were to get injured. If Newman stays healthy in his lone season at Georgia, Daniels still has a redshirt available because he played as a true freshman at USC.
If Daniels isn’t eligible in 2020, that’s fine, too. He’ll still have 2 years of eligibility left, and Smart will get a hotly-contested quarterback battle between Daniels, Beck and Mathis.
When you look at it from that standpoint, it makes a little more sense why this move happened. Smart can offer Daniels a chance to compete in an Air Raid offense if he’s immediately eligible, and if he’s not the starter or he’s ineligible, he can still be the favorite to win the starting job at a program loaded with 5-star skill players and national title aspirations.
What’s not to like?
By signing with Georgia, Daniels doesn’t have to put all of his eggs into the “I need to get a waiver and play immediately” basket. He can learn what’s widely accepted now as a pro-style system. Who knows if Monken’s Air Raid offense served as a legitimate selling point given that it’s unproven in Athens.
But I can’t imagine Smart’s recruiting pitch led with Justin Fields or Jacob Eason. Obviously it hasn’t gone according to plan when it comes to Smart and handling 5-star quarterbacks. Daniels is, by all accounts, in a different spot than Fields or Eason were. Barring Beck setting the college football world ablaze in 2020, Daniels won’t have to compete against a true freshman who just had Georgia a game from a national title for the first time since 1982.
However this turns out for Daniels, this decision should serve as a reminder that Smart isn’t one to settle. You don’t land a quarterback of Daniels’ caliber unless you put forth a strong recruiting pitch. Few coaches in his spot would have spent time or energy doing that. After all, Newman looks like the guy for 2020. Plenty of teams would love to have a starter like him, or even just a couple of former 4-star recruits like Georgia has at the position. That’s without mentioning 5-star verbal commit Brock Vandagriff, who is set to join the Dawgs in 2021.
Smart isn’t approaching this like a fan. If you include walk-ons Jackson Muschamp and Austin Kirksey, Daniels is Smart’s 5th quarterback he brought to Georgia since Fromm announced his intentions to leave school early. Something tells me Smart doesn’t want to waste what should be the best defense he’s had.
He’s not worried about hurting feelings in that quarterback room. Clearly. Could it create some problems down the road? Absolutely. Could Georgia watch another extremely talented young quarterback leave and become a star elsewhere? Definitely.
But this about Smart never wanting to feel like he doesn’t have a talented option to turn to. The guy somehow got Fields to stay committed after Fromm’s breakout freshman season, and Smart somehow kept Eason verbally committed to Georgia after Mark Richt was fired.
One way or another, Smart continues to stockpile talent at the quarterback position. Maybe Daniels will be the one who finally works out in Athens.
Shoot enough shots, and eventually one has to go in.