The chance to see which players will step out of the shadows and into the spotlight is one of the joys of a new college football season. If you're a Georgia Bulldog fan that joy is tinged with uncertainty. When you lose perennial starters at multiple positions on both sides of the ball, well, things could go either well or poorly depending on who breaks out and how quickly. Here are five Bulldogs I think are capable of staking their claim as prime time performers in 2016.
Jayson Stanley. If there’s a position at which Kirby Smart could use a breakout performance, it's wide receiver. With questions at quarterback and injuries at tailback, Georgia needs offensive playmakers badly. Stanley suffered a serious knee injury at the tail end of his senior season of high school that delayed his progress in 2015. Still, the former Creekside standout managed to appear in three games as a true Freshman, contributing on special teams and notching 2 receptions for 23 yards against Siuthern.
At 6’2, 210 lb. Stanley has excellent size and speed to spare. The Bulldogs are in the market for downfield threats, and Stanley will get a chance to fill the role.
Roquan Smith. Coach Smart has praised the sophomore from Montezuma during camp for his work ethic and mental approach to the game. That may be bad news for the SEC at large, because Smith’s physical gifts were never in doubt. 20 tackles in 12 games was a creditable freshman performance. But Smith could be set for much bigger things in 2016.
Tyler Catalina. The big transfer from Rhode Island has been getting snaps at left tackle, though it's far from certain that he'll have a starting spot when the ‘Dawgs take on North Carolina on September 3rd. But Catalina has size, speed, and experience, a combination that's in relatively short supply for a Bulldog OL that’s replacing steady LT starter John Theus.
Davin Bellamy. Despite fighting injuries and fighting for snaps behind NFL rookies Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, Davin Bellamy enjoyed a surprisingly productive 2015. The 6’5, 240 pound junior outside linebacker tallied 33.5 tackles and 3 sacks in 10 games, starting twice when Jenkins went down with a groin injury.
Now Bellamy joins Lorenzo Carter (who could also plausibly be on this list) in stepping up to anchor an outside linebacker spot.
Jacob Eason. As William of Ockham noted, oftentimes the simplest answer is the correct one. Sharp guy. Also sharp? The freshman QB from Washington who’s been battling veterans Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey for the starting job all camp. The fact that Eason continues to take first team reps is a sign that the big kid with the big arm is likely to see the field this season.
The longer Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney go without naming a starter, the more I believe Eason is legitimately in the race. When he does play he will make freshman errors. See, e.g., Stafford, Matthew (2006). But if Eason can take over the job by mid-season, take his lumps, and learn from the experience, 2017 may set up as a break out season for the Bulldogs as a whole. Until later....