After an up and down year for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, 2021 could be the year where Georgia makes a return to the College Football Playoffs. J.T. Daniels (Yes, I know the featured picture is Jake Fromm) is sure to be one of the preseason Heisman favorites and he has the weapons around him to make Georgia a high scoring offense, something they have been missing for a few years. Smart is known for having a stout defense, how will it look in 2021 after some key departures from the team. Let’s jump in and look!
Quarterback: As I mentioned earlier, the Bulldogs are returning J.T. Daniels at quarterback. After originally starting Dwan Mathis and then Stetson Bennett, Kirby Smart finally turned to USC transfer J.T. Daniels. It became clear that he was the best quarterback on the roster and it was not very close. Daniels went 4-0 in his starts while also throwing for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also completed 67% of his passes. Daniels is one of the more complete passers returning to college football next season and should be able to put his arm talent on display.
Running Back: Over the past two decades, Georgia has become known for their stud running backs, and being able to use a committee of running backs who are all capable of starting at nearly any school in the country. Next season will not be much different. Zamir White should be listed the starter, but that title does not mean all that much considering how often they are rotated. White lead the team in attempts, yards and touchdowns. Next up will be James Cook and Kendall Milton. Cook averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns last season. Milton, as a freshman, had 193 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Kenny McIntosh will also see playing time as well.
Wide Receiver: Kirby Smart is returning some of his top wide receivers in 2021 which will help the offense and Daniels excel. George Pickens is one of the nation’s best receivers and should have another strong season after building chemistry with Daniels this off season. Pickens lead the team with six touchdowns. Also returning is slot receiver Kearis Jackson. He had 36 catches for 514 yards (one more yard than Pickens) and three touchdowns. Jermaine Burton also returns after starting at receiver last year and was the third leading pass catcher. One name to watch out for this fall is Marcus Rosmey-Saint. He broke his ankle in November on a play where he scored but possesses the talent to rise to the top of this receiving core. Rosmey-Saint should see an increase in his role in 2021, pending his health of course.
Tight End: Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick did not see many targets last year, but are candidates to see their usage increase next season. Washington only had seven catches but averaged a staggering 23.7 yards per catch. With his big play ability, Daniels will be looking for him much more next season. One rumor that is being circulated is that former five star tight end, Arik Gilbert, could be coming to the program via the transfer portal after just one year at LSU. He would be a difference maker at the position.
Offensive Line: Georgia has a lot of talent on the offensive line, the question is going to be figuring out who is starting. Warren McClendon started at right tackle in 2020 and should hold onto that spot next season. At left tackle, Xavier Truss started the Peach Bowl but a competition will ensue. Broderick Jones and Amarius Mims will both push for time. Jones was a five star in the 2020 class while Mims was a five star for the 2021 class. Both will be in competition for the left tackle position and could potentially upset McLendon for the right tackle position depending how camp goes. Trey Hill declared for the NFL Draft leaving a need at center. Sedrick Van Pran-Grainger appears to be the future at center with Warren Ericson challenging him. At guard, the Bulldogs return Jamaree Salyer and he should hold it down at left guard. If Ericson loses the battle at center, he could look to move to guard and compete with Tate Ratledge, Chad Lindberg, and Micah Morris. Mims and Jones could factor in here as well if either one of them loses the battle at tackle. As I stated earlier, the Bulldogs have no shortage of talent, it is just about figuring out the right pieces.
Defensive Line: Jordan Davis, Travon Walker, and Devonte Wyatt are the early projected starters across the defensive line. Malik Herring is off to the NFL which is a substantial loss. In two seasons, Walker has 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in a limited action. Davis is a converted tight end who had 16 tackles last season. He should continue to get better with game experience. Wyatt started in 2020 and finished with 25 tackles. He should help anchor down the middle of the line. Jalen Carter, Warren Brinson, and Nazir Stackhouse should also be in line for a considerable amount of snaps during the season.
Linebacker: Based off talent alone, this should be one of the strongest units in the SEC and they will need it to be if they want a chance at an SEC championship. Adam Anderson returns after having 5.5 sacks last season and should play the SAM position. Anderson could be one of the best edge rushers in the SEC next season. Former five star prospect Nolan Smith is expected to step in and start at the JACK position for the Bulldogs next season. Smith is an early candidate to take the biggest leap forward on this Georgia team. Nakobe Dean was the team’s leading tackler last year with 74 tackles. His return to the defense to play in the MIKE spot cannot be understated. Quay Walker returns to his WILL spot after having 43 tackles last year. Georgia will rotate their linebackers so Channing Trindall, Rian Davis, and MJ Sherman should all see playing time next fall as well.
Secondary: Richard LeCounte III and Tyson Campbell are both off to the NFL needing players behind them to step up. At cornerback, Kelee Ringo should be one of the first up. He is another five star player on this Georgia team. Ringo missed 2020 because of surgery but should be ready to go for 2021. Jalen Kimber is who I expect to start opposite of Ringo. Kimber played a decent amount this season including in the Peach Bowl. Nyland Green is a fifth year senior who could factor in as well. Lewis Cine started at safety last season and should start again. Christopher Smith came in for the injured LeCounte late in the season and should fight for time again next year. At the Star position should be Latavious Brini after Tyrique Stevenson transferred to Miami.
Special Teams: Jack Podlesny stepped in for the legendary Rodrigo Blankenship and filled in nicely. He converted 13 of 16 field goals including the one to beat the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Peach Bowl. Jake Camarda has been one of the best punters in the SEC averaging over 46 yards per punt the last two seasons. Special teams is an area Georgia fans will not need to be concerned with next season.
Analysis: Georgia’s toughest game next season is without question Clemson. The game is in Charlotte. While it is closer to Clemson, the fan distribution will probably be close to 50/50. I stated in my Clemson preview that I thought Georgia would win that game, and I am sticking with that. I do think Georgia slips up at some point this season though. Florida is a game that sticks out because of the rivalry aspect but Kentucky and Arkansas could be tricky games. The trip to Auburn is one to watch out for as well. Overall, Georgia wins the SEC East at 11-1 and heads to the SEC Championship to face off with Alabama.