As we preview the 2013 football season, we are counting down Georgia's 10 most important players. This is not a ranking of the team's best players, rather a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
No. 5 is ...
5. Jordan Jenkins
WHY HE’S VITAL: Georgia needs a playmaking pass-rusher to replace Jarvis Jones, so all eyes naturally turn to Jenkins, second on the team in sacks last year. In fact, you’d have to argue that if Jenkins doesn’t consistently apply the pressure off the edge, who will? Maybe Josh Harvey-Clemons when he’s at the nickel-back role, which will feature some pass-rushing elements. Maybe James DeLoach or whoever plays the most at the Sam linebacker spot. And perhaps the many defensive linemen, though under Todd Grantham the front three hasn’t racked up many sacks. There’s a decent amount of potential on this defense. But Jenkins needs to be the guy who worries the offense, draws multiple blockers and frees up teammates to make plays. And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt if he got into double figures in sacks.
QUOTABLE: “There’s no if, and or buts about it: It’s something I gotta do this season to help out the team. I wanna get into that role and make new plays, and not sit back, because I’m gonna have to do it with some of the younger guys stepping up. Because I can’t rely on Tree, or Jarvis or Rambo or any of the other older guys to make the plays. Now it’s my turn. I gotta step up and do it.” - Jenkins
BEST CASE: Jenkins lives up to the expectations he’s setting for himself, ranking among the SEC leaders in sacks and quarterback pressures – the latter of which Grantham says is more important. This draws blockers the way Jones did, and it frees up others to make plays and have a surprisingly good season. (Sterling Bailey, anyone?) And much like Jones excelled all over the field, Jenkins does too, ranking among the team lead in tackles, and helping the defense become an above-average unit.
WORST CASE: Jenkins doesn’t emerge yet as Georgia’s next defensive force. He finishes with eight sacks or less, and his good freshman season proves to be much a product of playing with Jones. In general Jenkins struggles to make plays, and too many opposing quarterbacks are able to settle in the pocket, or get free on the outside for runs. (Don’t underestimate how important it will be to stop Tajh Boyd and Connor Shaw from scrambling, and Jenkins will figure in that defensive gameplan.)
FINAL WORD: Justin Houston had 10 sacks in the lead pass-rushing role in 2010, the first year of Grantham’s 3-4. Jarvis Jones followed up with 13.5 and 14. Now it’s Jenkins’ turn, and there’s no reason to think he can’t get 10 sacks, which he has personally set as his minimum goal. He won’t be as great as Jones was as a sophomore, but he can come close, and the key will be whether it springs teammates into becoming playmakers.