Kirby Smart delivers for Georgia with promising recruiting class

Apr 16, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart coaches during the second half of the spring game at Sanford Stadium. The Black team defeated the Red team 34-14. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Smart had a few main goals for Georgia’s 2017 recruiting class: Add depth in the secondary, improve along the offensive line and own the state of Georgia.

“We wanted to attack the offensive line, attack the front, improve the depth in the secondary and just throughout the team,” Smart told ESPN’s Maria Taylor on Wednesday. “We really struggled on special teams to find fast guys that can run, and that’s always a target for us: To get really good players and protect our state.”

He didn’t just meet those goals, Smart blew past them on his way to building the country’s No. 3 recruiting class — the Dawgs’ best since Matthew Stafford’s 2006 class.

It’s a class that hit in all of the key areas. The Bulldogs hauled in one of the best groups of offensive linemen in the country, added legitimate playmakers on defense and kept some of the state’s top prospects home.

Smart’s first season as a head coach had some rough spots, but his first full year on the recruiting trail delivered on the hopes that Georgia had upon hiring him.

Overall rank: No. 3
SEC rank: No. 2

5-stars: 2
4-stars: 18
3-stars: 6

The Bulldogs didn’t have much drama on National Signing Day, but that’s only because they had most of the class wrapped up well before then.

Much to Georgia fans’ delight, offensive line was the major priority.

Six linemen are in the fold, with an average size of 6-5 and 337 pounds. This added size should help the Bulldogs develop more consistency and physicality in the trenches and keep Jacob Eason clean.

It’s a group that’s headlined by 5-star tackle Isaiah Wilson and D’Marcus Hayes, the No. 2 JUCO offensive tackle. The depth and talent at the position is unlike any Georgia has had in recent seasons and it came at an important time.

Outside of the offensive line, the defensive back class was one of the other notable units for Georgia. Heading into National Signing Day, the Bulldogs already had the nation’s No. 2 and No. 4 safety prospects locked up in Richard LeCounte III and Deangelo Gibbs, respectively. At cornerback, Tray Bishop will bring some size to Athens, while William Poole III is a fantastic defender in coverage.

The Bulldogs also added a few more pieces in the secondary on signing day. Eric Stokes and Ameer Speed are two fast corners who will bring length and speed to Athens. Latavious Brini was the final commitment of the day for this 26-man class, and he became the fourth defensive back who is 6-2 or taller to sign.

Size was a priority in the secondary for the Bulldogs. When discussing his defensive backs after the day was over, Smart put it simply, “Length, man, length. We needed it.”

Brini’s announcement seemed to signal that the Bulldogs would miss out on one of their final top targets, 4-star cornerback Jamyest Williams. The Georgia native confirmed that notion when he announced that he would remain pledged to South Carolina, despite a late run from the Bulldogs.

Williams was one of the few top in-state prospects who said no to the Bulldogs. Smart dominated the state of Georgia in a way that Mark Richt didn’t in his final years.

Four of the state’s top five 10 prospects, and 14 of the top 22, committed to Georgia’s 2017 class. In ESPN’s recruiting ratings, the Bulldogs signed all three of the state’s 5-star prospects.

Big names like LeCounte, Gibbs, Robert Beal and Jake Fromm are important parts of this class. Smart’s first full year of recruiting clearly made waves within the state, and his message struck a chord with the players in Georgia’s backyard.

This is exactly what the Bulldogs were hoping for when Smart came back to Athens as the program’s head coach. He still has a learning curve when it comes to managing a team and program, but he hasn’t missed a beat in recruiting.

Nick Saban has indicated many times that recruiting is the most important aspect of building a championship program. Georgia hired Smart to build a program of Alabama’s caliber.

After Wednesday, it looks like he’s got this ship moving in the right direction.

William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden

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  • 85 scholarship players on Georgia’s roster. I remember when Georgia fans used to talk about how dirty Saban was for over-recruiting. Guess everyone is fine with it now?

    • What are you even talking about? The SEC has rules against over signing and the team will be at 85. Multiple times Saban hung guys out do dry after they had been committed for months but this has nothing to do with him.

      • Last post should have read “OVER” 85 scholarship players on Georgia’s roster. But you right. I’m sure they will have that number down to 85 soon due to “attrition”.

        • I’m sure a few Juniors or Seniors that have never seen the field will likely transfer between now and the fall, doesn’t that happen with every team? The problem with CMR is I can remember multiple years where we had mid-upper 70 players on scholly, basically self imposed sanctions b/c of non-qualifiers or whatever reason…

        • most rosters currently include seniors who are leaving, so the numbers will change with the team year.

    • This is not Mark Richt’s program anymore, and we all knew that the day he was fired. I won’t deny it, nor will I defend it. I don’t like over signing, and never will whether we do it or not. We don’t have moral high ground anymore on this issue, but we’re not any different than the rest of the big boys who recruit at this level. So, yes Swamp79… it’s not the same as it was, but that doesn’t make us hypocrites because the powers that be changed the paradigm.

  • I was proud of Kirby for locking GA down from saban, til it dawned on me, that simply pushed saban over our way. Must be a shame to not have much talent in your own backyard.

    • Why is that a shame? I would think it would be a “shame” to have such talent as LSU has in their own state and get out recruited by teams without that luxury.

  • They will be on probation in 3 years. Death penalty!!! VFL!!!

  • With so many players coming back alone with this year’s recruiting class I’m eager to see what Kirby does in year 2. Mark Richt finished his 2nd season with a 12-1 record and a SECC. Kirby will have more talent to work with.

    Head coaches in their first and second seasons(@Top Tier Programs):

    1) Bob Stoops 1999 OU 7-6….2000 13-0 NC (recruiting ranking n/a – 24th)
    2) Mark Richt 2001 GA 8-4…..2002 12-1 SECC (recruiting ranking 10th/9th)
    3) Muschamp 2011 FL 7-6……2012 11-2 Div T(recruiting ranking 11th/4th)

    4) Ron Zook 2002 FL 8-5…….2003 8-5 Div T(recruiting ranking 10th/1st)
    5) Mike Shula 2003 AL 4-9….2004 6-6 (recruiting ranking 41st/30th)

    6) Kirby 2016 8-5………….2017 (recruiting ranking 8th/3rd)

    • They will finish 8-5 or 7-6. The offensive line will be to young to expect them to win the east. Probably just 2 returning starters. Teams just need to stop the running game and we want have an answer Eason doesn’t have mobility and the line want be able to hold up. I think by 2018 this team will finally live up to the hype but its to mich to expect right now. The verdict is still out on Chaney but not a good start for sure.

      • I was fortunate enough to watch the dawgs go unbeaten in 1980 so I never go into a season thinking we will lose a game but since you think we will, name the 5 or 6 teams they will fall victim to.

        • I also remember watching that season in 1980. I of course can’t tell you every game they will lose but I do think they have a good chance to lose to nd, sc, tenn, au, vandy and we always lose to Florida. That being said I hope for the best but I think people are asking too much of a new offensive line. You have to win up front to have a chance. Play calling has to improve. I hope I am proven wrong it wouldn’t be the first time.

      • Rick34…the “Debbie-Downer”, where in the world do you see UGA losing 5 or even 6 games? REALLY?!?!?
        Kirby’s recruits and the seniors coming back on offense and defense are preparing to be the SEC East division winners. The seniors will help lead and instruct the ’16 and ’17 recruits on the success model of the process. Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all time thing! That’s the demeanor that Kirby is bringing to UGA from past NC’s he has helped in producing.
        Defense, first and foremost, is the base foundation to start that SEC football winning precedence.

  • It wont be long before Athens tries to steal our DBU brand. Just as Dawg Nation has now became a familiar slogan on gameday. We all know theres only 1 nation, Gator Nation! I may sound like a hater but its true. Kirby has really done a hell of a job recruiting this year. Bringing back Chubb & Michel should be interesting. Let’s just hope it pays off between the hedges.