Georgia Tech only has to replace one wide receiver leaving the team this year. The sense of urgency to restock the position wasn't as great this year as it was this time last year. Last year Tech was saying goodbye to seniors Nate Curry, Levon Thomas and Mark Logan, while talented QB-convert Pat Carter was leaving the program through a transfer. A year removed from those mass losses, Tech has to part with only one. The one though was the physically gifted and well liked Damarius Bilbo. Bilbo seemed to not only be popular with teammates but fans grew a liking to him immediately. The Tech faithful have spent countless hours debated the best place to use the talented Bilbo. Coach Chan Gailey had the final say though. After coming to Tech as a highly touted QB prospect, Bilbo eventually settled in at wide receiver. He didn't take to the move well at first but eventually embraced it and made some strides. NFL scouts still love his measurables and consider him to have an outside chance to be drafted as a receiver in the NFL.
When mentioning the wide receiver position at Tech, or for that matter any mention of Tech football, one name comes to mind immediately. Calvin Johnson. Likely in his last year as a Yellow Jacket, fans get one more season of enjoying this amazing talent. He even makes practices interesting to watch for the casual fan. Even with his enormous, obvious talent; Calvin takes on every play (game or practice) as if it will define him. Most believe that because of his talent, attitude, and work ethic, NFL teams will be willing to spend a top 5 pick on him next year. With that kind of potential, naturally folks will understand if he leaps at the opportunity in spite of his and his family's desire for him to graduate and play all four years.
After Calvin, the conversation moves to the new starter in Bilbo's old spot. The man ready for that role is James Johnson. He came in the same time as Calvin but redshirted his first season. He's now ready for an expanded role and should be a good complement to Calvin. The competition really opens up after Johnson & Johnson. Seniors Chris Dunlap and Xavier McGuire will try and grasp the backup roles but they will be seriously pushed by the aforementioned Smith and Frierson. Both newcomers to last season's class redshirted in 2005 but were impressive during the reps they did get. Both played on mainly running offenses in high school and the "experts" didn't really know what to expect from those two. Their high school schemes made them perhaps a little harder to project but they both had good speed and size and now look like steals for the Yellow Jackets. In some practices I thought Greg Smith may have been too good to redshirt last season but now we really get to see what he and Martin can do with no barriers to the 2-deep competition.
The biggest surprise on Signing Day this year had nothing to do with the players who signed. It was the announcement that Patrick Clark, a starter in the slot on 3-receiver sets, would be moving to defense. This move will shore up the future competition at the corner position but also gives a chance for the 2 young receivers to make a larger impact and possibly even make room for a talented newcomer to make his mark.
After adding Greg Smith and Martin Frierson to last year's class the program needs to add a couple more in this class to even out the position and get some stability at receiver. Getting two this year would seem to be a good number. Coaches could then really focus on a small list and pursue some quality this season. Before talk of probation came down, there was some hope for maybe going for 3 receivers but 2 became a perfect number after the inexplicable ruling came down from the NCAA offices to cut scholarships to 79 overall.
Who GT signed:
Demaryius Thomas (6-4 215) is the #22 player in Georgia according to Scout.com rankings and #35 WR in the country. Thomas is also one of two players this year for GT to show up on Scout.com's Top 100 in the South at #84 on the list. Thomas, aka "BeBe," perhaps gave Tech fans more grey hairs this recruiting season than any other player who committed to the Yellow Jackets. Fans knew he was a special talent from viewing his video tapes and reading all of the write-ups. Seemingly daily rumors of other teams trying to pry Demaryius away had Jacket fans on edge. Nothing came of all of the talk and BeBe is now happily coming to play big-time college football in Atlanta, Ga.
Thomas is such a big receiver that some schools, like Georgia and Clemson, wanted him as a Tight End. West Laurens High School Offensive Coordinator, Brad Harber, gave a reason some teams think he's a TE while he thinks Tech got themselves an impact player. "He wears a size 14 shoe, and I think that's one of the reasons other schools may have wanted him at tight end," said Harber. "I'm not so sure he can't make an impact early at Georgia Tech. He has huge hands, and if you line him up on one side and Calvin Johnson on the other, those are two huge receivers you have to deal with." Like Calvin, Thomas can really stretch defenses vertically. He has great hands, focus, and leaping ability and is a tough match up for smaller defensive backs. He just comes off the screen when watching his videos. His freakish physical talent is as apparent as Michael Johnson's was in last year's class.
Correy Earls (6-0 185) is the #34 player in Georgia according to Scout.com. While not freakishly physical like Demaryius, Earls is more of the "traditional" sized receiver. He should be a good complement to Thomas. One thing Thomas certainly does not have on Correy is speed. Coaches said on Signing Day that Earls is a legitimate 4.3 40-speed receiver. Not only do coaches see him as a super pickup at receiver, he's expected to contend for punt and kick return duties. If most Tech fans are being honest, they'll admit wondering how good of a commitment Earls was when he announced back in October. There were some other big names on the board at the time and people wondered if we were hurting our chances with them by landing Earls. Correy's stock continued to rise though after more gurus were able to evaluate him. Eventually others agreed with Coach Gailey that he was quite a find and he ended up as a 3-star prospect in the rankings. To find out what kind of player Tech is getting, you can read it in Correy's own words. "They're getting a player that looks for the end zone every time he touches the ball and a guy who's hard on himself and expects a lot of himself," said Earls.
The one who got away:
Tech coaches threw out a wide early net to see what kind of talent they could attract. One of the big names Tech was a finalist for was Richard Jackson. Jackson visited Tech officially and really liked the school and coaches but he ended up selecting Notre Dame over Georgia Tech and Miami. Another target the Yellow Jackets came close on was Quintin Hancock, though it was unclear if they wanted him as a receiver or safety. He choose Tennessee. Other players listed as having offers from Tech at some point in the recruiting process included: Phillip Payne (Texas), Brandon Caleb (Oklahoma), George West (ND), Johnny Patrick (Louisville) and Clint Renfro (TCU).
Recruiting Grade: A-
Two years ago the class of Calvin Johnson, James Johnson, and Patrick Clark received an obvious A+ from me. Last year's duo of Greg Smith and Martin Frierson got a solid B. I think this class is somewhere between the last two. Ratings-wise Thomas and Earls were both 3-star prospects while Smith and Frierson were non-rated 2-star guys. Regardless of ratings, I think the talent brought in at this position in the last couple of years shows that Tech coaches are on a roll and are good judges of receiver talent. The true test for "Bebe," Earls, Smith and Frierson comes in 2007 when they could have the huge shoes of Calvin Johnson to fill. I feel like this group as a whole is a good mixture of size, speed and ability. Thomas & Earls look like exciting additions.