Derion Kendrick is both a talented player and a player who fills a need for Georgia.
With regard to the latter, I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I believe Kirby Smart has had two epiphanies since becoming the head coach in Athens. The first came after the 2019 SECCG when he reluctantly came to the same conclusion that Nick Saban had previously reached: old-school manball was no longer a viable offensive philosophy in an era of wide open spread passing attacks. Adapt or die.
The second came after last season’s losses to Alabama and Florida, both of which ran dynamic spread passing attacks. Georgia’s defense simply didn’t have enough bodies to deploy in pass defense against five-receiver sets. Remember Monty Rice trying to cover Jaylen Waddle? Yeah, that didn’t go well. Mullen did a good job taking lessons from Sarkisian’s game plan and wore Georgia’s linebackers out with wheel routes when the secondary was focused on Pitts and company.
If the first problem was one of scheme and philosophy, the second was personnel related. Smart knew at season’s end he was losing his top three corners and that his roster, while talented, was green. On top of that, he suffered roster defections like Stevenson and Burns, exposing the defensive backfield’s overall lack of experience even more. A loaded signing class wouldn’t fix that. Smart instead chose not to sign as many recruits as he could, leaving open spots on the roster he could fill from the transfer portal. Which is what he proceeded to do this offseason.
Kendrick isn’t some magic formula that completely transforms Georgia’s secondary into the best in the country. I’m not even sure yet if he qualifies as a lockdown corner. Take a look at what David Hale tweeted yesterday after the news came out.
This is a player who handled mediocre passing attacks with ease, but struggled with elite offenses. (“Hey, that’ll fit right in with Georgia,” he said sarcastically.) That being said, I think David hit the nail on the head with this observation:
And, as Seth Emerson notes ($$), Kendrick does bring a fair amount to his new team.
Last season at Clemson, Kendrick allowed completions on 11 of 24 passes where his man was targeted, per Sports Info Solutions, a percentage that would have ranked second on Georgia (for defensive backs with a minimum of 10 targets.) The completions resulted in 258 yards (or 10.8 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns.
Kendrick has three career interceptions. Tykee Smith had four in two years at West Virginia. All returning Georgia players combine for only two, including zero in 2020.
Another tidbit: Per Pro Football Focus, Kendrick has been flagged for pass interference just once in 576 career coverage snaps, including zero in 193 last season. That fits in well with a Georgia team that was flagged for defensive pass interference only six times last season, tied for the second-fewest in the SEC.
Seth goes on to call Kendrick coming to Georgia a no-brainer, and I agree — for both parties. Kendrick gets to flash his talent in a contract year, with a chance for that to turn into a lucrative NFL opportunity. Georgia, at worst, gets a player with two years of experience at a top flight P5 program to shore up a secondary that may not be lacking in talent, but certainly is in on-field time. (At best, maybe the Dawgs do get that lockdown corner.) Between him, Tykee Smith and Brandon Turnage, Kirby Smart shows that he’s bound and determined not to get caught with his pants down defending five-receiver sets this season.
Like, for example, Clemson’s.