Next men up: 5 biggest holes to fill in Georgia's 2018 starting lineup
Georgia had a magical 2017 season, winning the SEC championship and advancing to the National Championship Game.
The ending might have been bitter, but it was a great year and there is reason to believe the Dawgs are set up to string together several outstanding seasons.
Yes, they’ll lose a lot with this year’s senior class graduating and a key junior leaving early, but the Bulldogs have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class and are poised to replace the outgoing players with new talent.
Depending on how well these players step up, the Dawgs should be in the mix for an SEC East title and a spot in the College Football Playoff again in 2018. Here are the five biggest positions of need heading into next season and the players with the best chance to land the starting jobs:
Who’s out: Nick Chubb, Sony Michel
Who’s in: D’Andre Swift
Skinny: Chubb and Michel were the most successful RB duo in college history.
However, Swift showed electric potential in 2017 and already is getting some dark-horse Heisman hype heading into 2018.
He’ll be joined by Brian Herrien, Elijah Holyfield, Zamir White and James Cook in the backfield next year, but it’ll be Swift’s show, and we’ll get to see what he can do with a full workload when the 2018 campaign kicks off.
Who’s out: Roquan Smith
Who’s in: Adam Anderson, Juwan Taylor
Skinny: The Bulldogs are losing several key linebackers, including Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter and Davin Bellamy.
However, Smith became an absolute star this year, so his absence will be felt the most acutely by Georgia moving forward.
Fortunately, they have some players who should be ready to step up. Depending on Natrez Patrick’s status after an arrest for marijuana possession, the Dawgs also have Monty Rice, Walter Grant and D’Andre Walker waiting in the wings.
Replacing Smith, though, will be no easy task. Adam Anderson, a 5-star 2018 signee, will get a crack at the position, but rising senior Juwan Taylor might get a long look as well.
Who’s out: Javon Wims
Who’s in: Riley Ridley
Skinny: Ridley has taken longer to develop than his superstar brother Calvin (who played at Alabama), but he showed flashes of brilliance during the National Championship Game.
He had the biggest game of his career against the Crimson Tide, catching six passes for 82 yards in the absence of Wims, who was battling an injury suffered early in the game.
The Dawgs also have Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman returning to a receiving corps that should make big strides this offseason, but Ridley could develop into QB Jake Fromm’s favorite target by next fall.
Who’s out: Isaiah Wynn
Who’s in: Isaiah Wilson, Cade Mays
Skinny: Freshman Andrew Thomas solidified the right tackle spot this season, and will likely have the first crack at the left tackle spot for 2018, but that still leaves an opening on the right side.
Wilson was a 5-star recruit in the 2017 class and Mays, of course, is a 5-star 2018 commit. The job will likely be won by one of those two, with the other potentially shifting inside.
That spot is important to the Bulldogs’ success, though, so it should be a fascinating battle to watch this spring and summer.
Who’s out: Malkom Parrish, Dominick Sanders and Aaron Davis
Who’s in: Richard LeCounte III, Deangelo Gibbs and Nadab Joseph
Skinny: The Bulldogs’ secondary is getting hit particularly hard by graduations, but there are some younger players who will have a chance to step up.
Gibbs and LeCounte will be sophomores in 2018 and both got sporadic playing time this year. Joseph, meanwhile, is the Dawgs’ highest-rated signee at the cornerback position in the 2018 class.
With so many players leaving, the young guys will need to step up quickly to keep the Georgia pass defense from taking a major step back next year.