PFF ranks Georgia’s defense as the second best in the country, behind you-know-who.
Georgia’s defense is raw, but it has the potential to be among the best in the PFF College era.
The X-factors of the unit are the two new starting outside corners, Derion Kendrick and Kelee Ringo. Kendrick comes over from Clemson, where he notoriously locked up the average and above-average wide receivers of the world but struggled against talented route-runners in big moments.
In his three games against Ohio State and LSU, Kendrick gave up 286 yards and five touchdowns. But in his 21 other games, he allowed only 259 yards and one score, which are true shutdown numbers. He is still fresh to the position after switching from wide receiver just two years ago. Yet, he has the traits to be great.
Ringo, the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2020 class, didn’t play a down in Year 1 but also possesses incredible potential. He is the whole package from a physical tools standpoint. Now, he needs to put those traits into action.
The rest of the defense can confidently be projected to produce at a high level in 2021. The best player is slot corner Tykee Smith, who transferred this offseason from West Virginia. As an underclassman in 2019 and 2020, Smith recorded the third-best slot coverage grade in the FBS. He is physical with great eyes in coverage.
Another player to keep an eye on is edge defender Adam Anderson. The 2018 five-star recruit hasn’t started a game, but he’s racked up just shy of 200 pass-rush snaps in his college career, recording a 90.9 pass-rush grade, 24.5% win rate and 23.7% pressure rate.
Kirby Smart has groomed this group to routinely be in the conversation for the best in the country, and that’s going to be the case again this year.
None of that is particularly surprising to me (well, maybe except for anointing Ringo as a starting corner, but I digress), but their offensive call is.
Georgia starting quarterback JT Daniels is certainly not short of receiving threats despite losing top wide receiver George Pickens to a torn ACL in the spring. The Bulldogs added dynamic receiver Arik Gilbert, who looked like a baby version of Kyle Pitts in his 2020 true freshman season at LSU, and he joins a unit with sky-high potential. From tight end Darnell Washington, who is a physical freak at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds with an 85-inch wingspan and impressive wheels, to wide receiver Dominick Blaylock, who looks to finally stay healthy, to track star and deep threat Arian Smith, the receiving unit is right behind Ohio State for the best in college football.
The only question is, can Daniels seize the opportunity? While he certainly did in his Georgia debut start that ended in a 95.0 PFF grade and 0.52 expected points added (EPA) per pass, his other three outings in 2020 left much to be desired. His passing grade came in below 70.0 outside of his debut game against Mississippi State, and his performance in the Peach Bowl against a good Cincinnati defense was reminiscent of his 2018 season at USC when he earned a 58.6 grade.
Daniels is in a fantastic situation, including a strong supporting cast. Now, he needs to prove he is more than a one-hit wonder. Georgia’s offense has such a high ceiling but also a lower floor than most teams on this list. The former is more than enough to place the Bulldogs’ offense at No. 5 entering 2021.
You may recall PFF ranked Daniels as merely the 23rd best quarterback in the preseason. If QB is the most important position on the field, how in the world does a Daniels-directed offense rank so highly? Evidently that “strong supporting cast” is doing a lot of heavy lifting for PFF. Imagine where things go if it turns out that JT pulls his own weight.