The Georgia Bulldogs ended the 2015 season on a high note with a hard fought 24-17 win over the Penn State Nittany Lions in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Now, with a new head coach in Kirby Smart (who played for the Bulldogs from 1995-1998), new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Georgia football program will look completely different in 2016. Georgia has a solid group of talent returning, but they are also losing some stars.
Here is a look at Georgia’s roster for 2016:
The quarterback battle will be one of the most intriguing stories for the Georgia Bulldogs this spring and leading up to the season opener against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Incumbent starter Greyson Lambert returns for his final year of eligibility, and though most Bulldog fans don’t want to see Lambert under center, he was 10-2 as a starter and limited the mistakes that plagued him at the University of Virginia in his first year at Georgia. His main competition will be incoming freshman Jacob Eason, the extremely talented pro-style quarterback recruit who enrolled early this month. The hype surrounding Eason is undeniable, and that has to be weighing heavily on Lambert, but one thing Lambert has going for him: game experience. Keep an eye on this one – it is going to be fun to watch.
Star running back Nick Chubb is expected to make a full recovery and be completely healthy before the 2016 season begins. The Georgia Bulldogs also return talented backup Sony Michel, as well as A.J Turman, Tae Crowder and Brendan Douglas. Georgia – who some call “Running Back U” – may also be getting another star in four-star Elijah Holyfield, who has committed to play for the Bulldogs, but has not signed yet. Full back Quayvon Hicks graduated, so expect rising junior Christian Payne to take over as the starter.
What a bittersweet season 2015 was for Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell, even in a struggling offense, had the type of breakout season everyone was expecting his entire career – a career derailed by injuries. Unfortunately, Mitchell graduated and has left Georgia without a go-to guy. Similarly, wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley made the decision to retire from football due to injuries. Georgia returns wide receiver Terry Godwin, talented all-purpose star Isaiah McKenzie, rising senior Reggie Davis, and tight end Jeb Blazevich – along with many young, potential stars like Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley. Though Georgia’s receiving corps under-performed in 2015, they have a lot of help potentially coming in for Lambert or Eason. Five-star tight end Isaac Nauta enrolled early, along with surprise, four-star early enrollee Cavin “Riley” Ridley. The Bulldogs also have three other hard commits at wide receiver, including four-star Charlie Woerner, who is the nephew of former Georgia Bulldogs All-American Scott Woerner. Hinds Community College transfer Javon Wims could also make an immediate impact at receiver.
With the departure of four-year starter John Theus and Kolton Houston on the offensive line, Georgia will have some question marks entering the season. Brandon Kublanow will return and likely play the center position, and Isaiah Wynn and Greg Pyke should anchor the line at the guard position. Four-star stud offensive tackle Ben Cleveland, who has enrolled early, could have an immediate impact in 2016. The Georgia Bulldogs expect two other offensive lineman to sign – three stars Aaron Dowdell and Chris Barnes – but it would be a huge get for Kirby Smart and his recruiting staff if they could get another offensive line recruit (or two) to sign on National Signing Day.
The defensive line is losing James DeLoach, Chris Mayes, Josh Dawson and Sterling Bailey due to graduation. Rising sophomore Jonathan Ledbetter returns, but the defensive line will look completely different in 2016. Julian Rochester, a four-star recruit, enrolled early this month, and four-star recruits Chauncey Manac and Tyler Clark are solidly committed and expected to sign with Georgia. The Georgia Bulldogs could make a huge splash if they can land five-star Georgia-native Derrick Brown, who is still reportedly deciding between the Bulldogs, Auburn and Mississippi State.
The star duo of Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins will be sorely missed, as Floyd has decided to enter the NFL Draft and Jenkins graduated. The Georgia Bulldogs also lose Jake Ganus, the standout heart of Georgia’s defense last season, who transferred from UAB after the school shuttered its football program. Tim Kimbrough will return for his senior season, and Lorenzo Carter could follow in the footsteps of Floyd, leaving for the NFL Draft after the 2016 season. Georgia also has some talented young linebackers, like Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick. Four-star linebacker Jaleel Laguins, who lives very close to Athens, is expected to sign with them. The Bulldogs have been spoiled at linebacker for many years, but this should be an area of focus for the recruiting staff this year and next.
Georgia is set at cornerback. They return most of their starters from 2015, and have incoming three-star recruits Chad Clay (enrolled early) and Tyrique McGhee (hard commit). Georgia returns interceptions leader Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger at safety, but are losing talented freshman Johnathan Abram, who announced his intentions of transferring earlier this month. None of Georgia’s early enrollees or hard commits will fill the gap left by Abram, but Georgia is making a very strong pass at five-star athlete Mecole Hardman, who could basically play any position.
Well, special teams was not a particular position of strength for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2015, except for sensational return man Isaiah McKenzie, who is returning. That being said, it is never a good thing when your starting place kicker and punter leave at the same time. Kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Colin Barber both graduated. Georgia has other kickers on the roster, but landing a stud kicker on the recruiting trail will be important. At punter, former quarterback Brice Ramsey took over partial punting duties in 2015 with some success, and he returns in 2016. That being said, a punter is a position of need for Kirby Smart’s team.
That is a lot of information to digest, but here is what you need to know about the Georgia Bulldogs in 2016. If they can find consistency at quarterback – meaning if Jacob Eason is all he is cracked up to be – and in the receiving game, reload effectively in the secondary after Georgia’s top-ranked effort in 2015, and stay healthy at running back, they should have a very good year under first-year head coach Kirby Smart.
All eyes are on National Signing Day on February 3.