As expected, the Georgia defense took a small step backward during the 2018 season after the loss of numerous veteran leaders to the NFL. However, as the season progressed the young talent began to shine through and the defense once again elevated its play. With another incredible recruiting class and an offseason of hard work the defense is poised to create havoc and lead the Dawgs back to the College Football Playoff. Below are the players sure to make game-changing plays on Saturdays this fall.
8 Adam Anderson
The former 5-star recruit made an instant impact on special teams as a true freshman and as the season progressed he became a special situational pass rusher. His incredible first step and flexibility allowed him to turn the corner with ease and affect the quarterback. His athleticism allowed him to run with tight ends and slot receivers in pass coverage and spy the fastest, scrambling quarterbacks. The versatility in his game makes him a prime candidate to create a tremendous amount of havoc in 2019.
7 J.R. Reed
The way Reed started the 2018 season he appeared destined to be an early entry candidate for the NFL Draft. However, his game lulled slightly as the season progressed and Georgia benefits greatly from his return. Reed’s speed and open-field tackling ability gives him a tremendous opportunity to fly downhill in run support or play deep centerfield reading the quarterbacks eyes. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that he leads Georgia in tackles and interceptions this season.
6 Jermaine Johnson
The addition of Jermaine Johnson was monstrous for the Dawgs in the Class of 2019. At 6-6, 250-pound Johnson is a freak athlete on the edge with unlimited potential. During spring practice Isaiah Wilson mentioned how Johnson was able to “long arm” him and get to the quarterback which is an incredibly impressive feat. He can set the edge in the run game but his biggest contribution to creating havoc will come as a pass rusher. If this Georgia defense is going to make the next step they must affect the quarterback and that is Johnson’s specialty.
5 Malik Herring
The most improved defensive lineman over the course of the 2018 season was Malik Herring. As the injuries mounted along the defensive front, he was called upon to step up and he responded well with the best performances of his career. Herring excels at getting penetration against the run and the pass, leading to negative yardage plays. With more snaps available, Herring is a prime candidate to lead the Dawgs in tackles for loss in 2019.
4 Richard LeCounte
2019 is a huge season for Richard LeCounte. When LeCounte signed with the Dawgs as a 5-Star recruit he was expected to be a dominant player that would be an elite ball-hawking free safety. Thus far, he has shown flashes of the player everyone expected but often struggled with consistency. During offseason workouts he changed his body, adding significant weight in his upper body, and also took on a leadership role throughout spring practice. All signs point to LeCounte having matured and ready to be a turnover machine for the Junkyard Dawgs.
3 Jordan Davis
It is rare for a true freshmen defensive lineman to change an entire defense, but Jordan Davis was able to do just that in 2018. When Davis was on the field, his physicality at the point of attack allowed inside linebackers to run free and stuff the run. Also, his presence commanded double teams allowing other lineman and edge rushers to get 1-on-1 opportunities. With a full offseason with strength and conditioning, a bigger and badder Jordan Davis is very bad news for Georgia’s opponents. His ability to collapse the pocket from the inside will allow the edge rushers to feast on opposing quarterbacks.
2 Nolan Smith
Nolan Smith is a rare prospect. He is an incredible talent and also carries a huge chip on his shoulder. Every practice it is as if he is a walk-on grinding to make the team. That mentality along with incredible physical talent is going to propel Smith to a monstrous first season in Athens where he will wreak havoc from the moment he steps on the field. Smith is a generational talent and has the chance to be the best pass rusher to ever wear the Red and Black. A double-digit sack season and appearance on the freshmen All-American teams should not surprise anybody.
1 Eric Stokes
Deandre Baker was the best cornerback at Georgia since Champ Bailey and Eric Stokes has that same potential. Stokes has every physical trait needed to be an elite corner and plays “like he has that dog in him.” Stokes has zero fear when he is put on an island to cover the best receivers in the country. With Coach Warren’s arrival and reputation for developing excellent cornerbacks, Stokes will quickly become one of the SEC’s top cornerbacks in 2019 and be a turnover-causing machine.