ATHENS -- A year ago, the suspense leading up to National Signing Day for the Georgia football team was centered on just one player: Isaiah Crowell. One puppy lift later, it was considered a successful day for the Bulldogs.
This year the anticipation is a bit more spread out. Several players considered key to the signing class will not announce their decisions until Wednesday, including an offensive lineman and a receiver with a chance to play right away and a linebacker who could start in 2013.
“I haven’t seen Georgia have this many open in a while,” said Rusty Mansell, a recruiting analyst for Dawgs247.com.
The top players in the class are already enrolled (tailback Keith Marshall) or have been committed for a long time (offensive tackle John Theus). The presence of those two elite players alone makes it a solid class for the Bulldogs. And a number of other highly-regarded players have been committed for awhile.
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But recruiting analysts say the program needs a few more players -- beyond the current 16 commitments -- to be able to call it a successful year.
“It’s what comes behind those guys that’s so important,” said Chad Simmons, the Southeast recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “They need more bodies on the offensive line, and they need one or two pieces in the secondary. I mean it’s good right now. If they stand pat, it would be solid. But there are a couple more needs they need to hit.”
Here’s a primer for Georgia in the lead-up to Wednesday:
How many can Georgia sign?
The SEC’s new roster management rules mean Georgia can sign up to 27 players. That’s the limit of 25, with two more because of back-counting early enrollments.
But the Bulldogs aren’t expected to go near their maximum, in large part because of their current roster. They are committed to nearly 85 scholarships for next season, and that’s the NCAA limit. There is always attrition, but there’s not expected to be as much as last spring, when various players left in an unofficial house-cleaning.
“I don’t see them signing 25,” Simmons said. “Even if they wanted to, with the guys they have left on their board, (they wouldn’t) unless they started throwing offers out to guys committed to UAB and places like that.”
Who are the top names to watch this week?
Defensive back Sheldon Dawson, who has been committed to Memphis, is now considered by analysts to be leaning toward Georgia. He is set to announce Monday or Tuesday.
Otherwise, signing day is expected to be a string of announcements: offensive lineman Avery Young, receiver Cordarelle Patterson, outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons and three players currently committed to other SEC schools: defensive end Josh Dawson (Vanderbilt) offensive lineman Brandon Greene (Alabama) and receiver Jaquay Williams (Auburn).
Who might not sign until later?
Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and tailback Todd Gurley are each planning on waiting until after Wednesday to hold signing ceremonies. Gurley is attending a national all-star game, and Jenkins wants to wait for his sister to return home Friday.
But last year recruit Justin Scott-Wesley also wanted to hold off, and while he held his ceremony a few days later, his national letter-of-intent arrived Wednesday. So Jenkins and Gurley could follow that route.
Who is arguably Georgia’s most important recruit?
Marshall gets the most attention because he’s the nation’s highest-rated tailback, and Georgia’s backfield has been a mess of off-field issues.
But Theus, rated as one of the nation’s top linemen, may be more vital to the 2012 team. Georgia loses three senior starters on the line, including both tackles, so Theus has a good chance of starting right away at left tackle.
Simmons described Theus as “the face of this class” who if he doesn’t start on day one, will start on day two.
Who else has a chance to start right away?
Offensive lineman Mark Beard, a junior college transfer, is already enrolled and could take one of the other line spots. Young is also good enough to push for time on the line.
As a junior college player, Patterson also has a chance to be an impact player, according to Mansell. Despite Georgia’s returning depth at receiver, Patterson could see the field right away.
“There has been some rumblings on him being one-and-done,” Mansell said, referring to the NFL draft.
Place-kicker Marshall Morgan is expected to step in for Blair Walsh, a four-year starter at kicker. Punter Collin Barber will also be the favorite at his position.
What does Georgia still need?
It doesn’t have any commitments from defensive backs yet, which is why Sheldon Dawson is so important.
“I think he’s an important part of the puzzle for Georgia,” Simmons said. “He can play safety; he can play corner. He can play on the other side of the ball, a la Brandon Boykin.”
Georgia also needs talent in general on the defense, where as many as nine starters could depart after the 2012 season. Eight will be seniors, and star linebacker Jarvis Jones could go pro.
Who is the potential sleeper in the class?
Simmons’ sleeper is John Atkins, who doesn’t get as much hype. He has the size and has played offensive and defensive line. Simmons thinks he could play right away at defensive end. Atkins committed early, isn’t one to attract attention to himself and Thomson is kind of off the beaten path, hence the lack of hype.
Mansell’s sleeper is Greg Pyke, an offensive lineman from a small private school in Baltimore.
“He doesn’t get talked about a lot because he’s not from the South. He came down and committed to Georgia and was done,” Mansell said.