This Georgia Bulldogs team lost a lot of talent and leadership from last year. The 2017 senior class was one of the best in school history, but now it is time for the new wave of talent to make an impact. The returning starters cannot be alone in contributing.
Georgia Bulldogs Potential Breakout Performers
Players with little or no playing time last year will need breakout seasons if the Bulldogs want to return the College Football Playoff. We preview that and more as we look at Georgia Bulldogs potential breakout performers in 2018.
Most college football fans already know the name, and some can argue that he broke out during his 2017 freshman campaign. But, 2018 will be the year he officially takes the reigns of the starting running back job. The best rushing duo in SEC history has moved onto the NFL, and the tradition of great Georgia backs falls on Swift’s shoulders. As a third option last season, he ran for 618 yards, including the back-breaking touchdown in the SEC championship game.
The only question for Swift is if he can handle the workload that may have to be put on him. That will be especially important with Zamir White being out for the year. He may be asked to carry the ball 20 to 25 times in a game. The talented back committed to Georgia through a Rocky-themed video. Swift will need to channel his inner Italian Stallion to be what the Bulldogs need him to be.
Whether it be Jake Fromm or Justin Fields, the quarterback is going to need a big target to throw to with Javon Wims moving onto bigger things with the Chicago Bears. Matt Landers could certainly step in and be the go-to target in the red zone. He redshirted his freshman year, but Landers still had a big role with the team. Each week in practice, he would mimic the opposing teams best wide receiver. Landers has experience against first team defenses, so he is poised for a sophomore surge.
Kirby Smart called Landers “a force” when it came to the way he challenged the veteran secondary. He also played extremely well at the spring game, showing the ability to go up and get jump balls. However, the young receiver does need to continue to get bigger to improve his blocking. Coach Smart has even said if you can block, you will get playing time. He didn’t earn his way onto the field last year but Landers still had an impact. Georgia’s receiving core is both young and experienced, so Landers will need to stand out from the crowd to earn play time.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, D’andre Walker is poised for a breakout season. Seniors Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy have moved onto the NFL. Georgia’s stout defense is looking for a new leader for the “Wolfpack,” and Walker has the talent and experience to be just that. He has played in 41 games over the course of his career and has yet to start one. That will change this season. Despite not starting last year, he led the team in sacks and was second in tackles for loss during the regular season. One can safely assume with more playing time, he should gain national attention.
Walker is the veteran of an outside linebacker group that will lean on youth in sophomore Walter Grant and early enrollee Brenton Cox, a five-star recruit. Georgia also signed outside linebackers Adam Anderson and Azeez Ojulari in its top-ranked recruiting class. The linebacking corp has changed from last season as a veteran unit to now being a young group. Walker is ready to pass on the ‘Wolfpack’ mentality just like Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd passed it on to Carter and Bellamy.
As a whole, we do not know much about rising true sophomore Monty Rice yet. He was slightly overlooked coming out of the 2017 recruiting class as a three star. However, his offer list did not resemble a three star. It included over 20 offers, including the entire SEC.
He played behind Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith last season, and he rarely came off the field. When Rice did see the field, he had little to no trouble adjusting to the college game. He played in 14 of the Bulldogs’ 15 games, including one start while tallying 22 tackles in limited play. Playing and learning under a top 10 NFL pick is definitely not the worst way to start out in college football. Succeeding Smith will not be easy, but Rice has the tools and work ethic to fill the large shoes.
Richard Lecounte was the first target to commit to Smart in his opening class. It was a huge stepping stone for Smart, landing the nations number one safety. Lecounte did not see the field often last year in a crowded core. He was more of a playmaker on special teams, making big hits on punt and kickoff coverage. With Dominick Sanders graduating, that leaves Lecounte to take over the free safety position. However, Coach Smart has made some comments on the young safety, questioning his desire for responsibility and work ethic. Smart’s former mentor, Nick Saban, used this strategy pretty often to motivate a player he saw great potential in.
There is no reason to not believe Kirby is doing the same thing here. After those comments, Lecounte shined in the spring game with three tackles and an interception. He has the intangibles to be one of the premier safeties in the SEC, but he still needs to study the playbook to make it second nature. Kirby clearly sees NFL talent in the former five star, and fans will get to see that talent let loose this season.