The 2017 Georgia Bulldogs are a shining example of just how instrumental newcomers can be to the success of a team. True freshmen Jake Fromm, Andrew Thomas and D’Andre Swift, along with Tulsa transfer J.R. Reed, were all instant-impact players in their first year in Athens. Each playing a key role in Georgia’s impressive run to an SEC championship and a Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma.
Thanks to the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2018, Kirby Smart once again has an influx of top-tier talent in place that could have a similar impact this season. There are several redshirt freshmen that could take on significant roles as well. So, with that in mind, here is a closer look at five newcomers that have the potential to see the field early and often for the Bulldogs in 2018.
Justin Fields, QB
It’s a tall order for an incoming freshman to beat out a returning starter at any position. It’s even more difficult when that position is quarterback, and the incumbent starter just led his team to an SEC title and College Football Playoff victory. That said, Fields isn’t your typical incoming freshman. The nation’s No. 2 overall prospect has already drawn early comparisons to elite talents such as Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson. Fields is already enrolled at Georgia and set to compete for the quarterback job in the spring. Jake Fromm will have a leg up on retaining his starting role. However, if Fields lives up to his lofty billing, it will be difficult to keep him off the field in 2018.
Isaiah Wilson, OL
The former five-star prospect out of Brooklyn, New York, was the crown jewel of Georgia’s No. 3-ranked recruiting class in 2017. But after arriving on campus overweight and unprepared for the harsh weather conditions in the south, Kirby Smart elected to redshirt his prized recruit. As the season progressed, a leaner Wilson better acclimated to the Georgia heat and started turning heads as a member of the scout team. He now enters his redshirt freshman campaign as the front-runner to land the starting right tackle job, assuming Andrew Thomas slides over to left tackle. Wilson will have to beat out some high-level competition to earn the starting role. But as long as he keeps his conditioning in check, it should be Wilson’s job to lose.
Tyson Campbell, DB
Georgia must replace three starters in the secondary, making it one of the biggest positions of need heading into 2018. Smart went all out on the recruiting trail to address that need, landing five top-tier defensive back prospects. That group is headlined by Campbell, the No. 2-ranked cornerback prospect in the nation. At 6-foot-2, the five-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale is as physically gifted and field-ready as any of his counterparts in the class of 2018. The only drawback with Campbell is that he is not an early enrollee, which could put him a little behind the eight ball in terms of challenging for a starting spot right away. Regardless, he is far too talented to keep on the sidelines for long.
Zamir White, RB
The top-ranked running back prospect in the country has drawn comparisons to fellow North Carolina product and former Georgia great Todd Gurley. Unfortunately, White is in the process of recovering from a torn ACL. But if he is back to full health in time for fall camp, there is little doubt that the early enrollee could make a significant impact in the Bulldogs' backfield in 2018. In addition to D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, and fellow incoming freshman James Cook, White’s talents will go a long way in helping fill the void left behind by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. It’s safe to say that Georgia's rushing attack will be in great shape for the foreseeable future.
Robert Beal, OLB
Beal was another prized recruit from Georgia’s stellar 2017 signing class. Unfortunately, the talented freshman was a late arrival to campus and fell behind in learning the scheme. Beal also had several experienced players already ahead of him on the depth chart, prompting his redshirt. But now that Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy are off to greener pastures in the NFL, Beal will have a golden opportunity to carve out a prominent role in Georgia’s OLB rotation next fall. He will have to fend off some stiff competition from highly-touted true freshmen Brenton Cox, Adam Anderson and Quay Walker. However, Beal’s experience should provide a big leg up in the competition.
The Bulldogs have such an influx of outstanding young talent, that it almost seems criminal to list just five. So, here are five additional newcomers that could have an impact in 2018:
WR Matt Landers, redshirt freshman
OL Jamaree Salyer, freshman
LB/DE Brenton Cox, freshman
OL Cade Mays, freshman
RB James Cook, freshman
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.