Georgia football trio among 25 most important players in the CFP race

Back in August, ESPN analyst Bill Connelly named his top 25 most important players for the 2022 College Football Playoffs race, with Georgia sophomore wide receiver Adonai Mitchell and junior defensive tackle Jane Carter making the list at No. 19 and No. 18. Now, entering Week 9, with the initial College Football Playoff rankings only a week away, Connelly updated his list.

Georgia, 7-0, ranked No. 1 in the polls, and having played without Mitchell and Carter for much of the season, still had three players make the list. First is freshman safety Malachi Starks, coming in at No. 24 as ESPN details the importance of stellar secondary play with teams like Tennessee fielding a prolific offense this season.

We’re just two weeks from what could be the most hyped Tennessee-Georgia game since 2005, and for as good as Georgia’s defense has been in recent years, few have tested the secondary the way Tennessee will. Starks and Kelee Ringo (combined stats in primary coverage: 17-for-39 for 219 yards with two interceptions) have been dominant, but we’ll find out their limits.

Sophomore wide receiver Ladd McConkey comes in at No. 12.

Among the primary contenders, Georgia and Michigan profile as perhaps the most physical of the bunch. They both rank in the top four in overall success rate, pairing sometimes brutal run games with high-efficiency passing games featuring tight ends (Georgia’s Brock Bowers and Darnell WashingtonMichigan’s Luke Schoonmaker) and heavy usage of slot receivers (McConkey and Bowers for Georgia, Bell and Roman Wilson for Michigan).

There’s still value in lining a guy up wide and stretching an opponent’s defense with some vertical shots, however, and that’s not something either the Wolverines or Bulldogs thrive in doing. They rank 86th and 106th, respectively, in average air yards per pass attempt, and they rank 80th and 111th in passing marginal explosiveness, my measure for the magnitude of a team’s successful plays. Big plays and easy points are like gold in matchups of elite teams, and Michigan and Georgia are less likely to create them than others. (Their defenses also prevent big plays with aplomb, of course.)

There’s still potential, however. Bell has caught 16 passes in his past two games, and while he’s gained just 160 yards (10.0 per catch) in that span, more than 25% of his routes are deep routes, per SIS, and he’s caught passes of 49, 28 and 21 yards while lined up wide this season. Whether it’s Bell, Roman Wilson or Cornelius Johnsona bit more in the “vertical threats” department would go a long way.

That’s almost double true for Georgia. The Dawgs almost lost to Missouri when the Tigers played aggressive coverage to dare Stetson Bennett to go deep, and Georgia couldn’t make them pay enough. The UGA receiving corps has been banged up all season — Adonai Mitchell, possibly its best deep threat, has played in only three games with five receptions — and Bennett has found himself relying heavily on the aforementioned tight ends and quick passes to McConkey, who is averaging just 11.0 yards per catch in conference play. But 31% of his routes are deep routes, most of any wideout on the roster, and while he spends lots of time in the slot, he also caught a 37-yarder from Bennett while lined up wide against Samford. Be it McConkey, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint or an eventually healthy Mitchell, someone will be asked to come up big deep, like Mitchell was in the fourth quarter of last year’s national title game.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV comes in at No. 4, ahead of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and behind Tennessee’s Hendon HookerMichigan’s JJ McCarthy, and whoever lines up at quarterback for Clemson.

It feels like Bennett hasn’t had a fully healthy receiving corps at his disposal at any point in his parts of three seasons as UGA’s starter. But while the lack of field-stretching has certainly caught up to him a bit recently — he’s averaging just 11.1 yards per completion in his last four games after averaging 14.6 in his first three this season — he has responded with patience and accuracy . He suffered from some occasional heroball issues early in his career as a starter, but now he takes what the defense gives him as well as anyone. We’ll see what happens if Hendon Hooker and Tennessee pull the Dawgs into a track meet in a couple of weeks, but Bennett has earned the benefit of the doubt.

Not a VIP subscriber to Dawgs247? Sign up now to get access to everything Rusty Mansell, Jake Rowe, and Kipp Adams have to offer on all things Georgia and access to the No. 1 site covering the Dawgs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.