23 For 2023 - The 23 People Who Will Have the Biggest Impact on UGA Football’s Success as it Pursues a Three-Peat
“Who would you rank as the coaches most important to UGA’s success?”
That question was recently posed to me by a DawgsCentral subscriber in response to a piece of intel that I posted on our forum. I started to type out a response, but a couple sentences in I realized that the answer to the question is quite complex. To make such a list, one must make broad value judgments on what assets are most important to a modern college football program.
When thinking about the answer I also found myself thinking about an old football cliche… "It's not the X's and the O's but the Jimmys and the Joes." That got me considering the players who will suit up on gamedays for Georgia next fall. Good gameplans and great play calls are key to any team’s success, but they are usually only as good as the personnel executing them.
With that in mind, I decided to broaden the scope of these rankings beyond just members of the coaching staff. As I go through this list I will touch on every position room and virtually every facet of the Georgia Football program. In that way, it will serve as both my version of a spring practice preview and a look at the state of the program.
So without further adieu, here are the 23 people most crucial to UGA’s success in the year 2023. Whether or not Georgia is able to win a third straight championship, and how they go about trying to do it, will be largely influenced by the roles these individuals play…
#18 - Mykel Williams
The talent that Kirby Smart has stacked across UGA’s position rooms is ridiculous. The Bulldogs recruit as well as anyone in the country and that means that extremely gifted players often have to wait 2-3 years before even being in contention for a starting job. There have been many UGA players under Smart who started for only one full season before being picked in the NFL Draft.
Jermaine Johnson was the top-ranked JUCO player in the country when he arrived at UGA. He was stuck fighting for pass rush snaps with future high-round draft picks like Azeez Ojulari, Nolan Smith and Travon Walker. In 2020 he took just 189 snaps for the Bulldogs. That offseason he transferred to Florida State. He immediately became the best defensive player in the entire ACC. In the absence of other blue-chip talents to share snaps with, Johnson played 736 snaps and recorded 46 pressures with 14 sacks for the 2021 Seminoles. He became the 26th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, but he played just 403 snaps over two seasons in Athens…
It is hard to see the field at UGA even if you’ve been in the defensive system for a couple seasons. It is even harder to be part of the rotation as a first-year player. It is nearly impossible to play starter snaps as a true freshman. Despite the long odds, Mykel Williams pulled off that feat last season.
I’ll never forget last August when I got a call from a source about a week into UGA’s fall camp…
Source: “Mykel Williams will be a better college player than Travon Walker.”
Me: “Travon Walker was just picked #1 overall in the NFL Draft”
Source: “I don’t care. Mykel will be more productive.”
Me: “Alright then…”
By the end of camp Williams was Georgia’s first team defensive-end. On the year he tallied 410 snaps for the Bulldogs. Veterans Robert Beal Jr. and Nazir Stackhouse were the only linemen who played more snaps for Georgia in 2022.
Who led UGA in QB pressures last season? That’s right, it was Mykel Williams.
At 6’5” and 265 pounds, Williams is a rare player. He has enough speed and length to be a handful when lined up wide as a pass rusher. He also has enough size to clog gaps against the run. He is a true three-down lineman who never has to come off of the field.
In fact, Williams can even play defensive tackle in certain situations. Look at the versatility he showed last season…
Mykel Williams Pre-Snap Alignment 2022
Lined up Outside Tackle: 228 Snaps
Lined up Over Tackle: 100 Snaps
Lined up in B-Gap: 65 Snaps
Lined up in A-Gap: 17 Snaps
Williams was often seen lined up tight on the inside shoulder of the opponent’s left tackle, playing the same 4I DE role that Walker excelled in for UGA in 2021. Mykel showed himself to be a disciplined run defender, using his quickness to set the edge on some plays and deploying his size to crash into the middle and help close interior gaps on others.
You might look at Mykel’s 17 tackles from last season and feel that they don’t pop off the page, but UGA’s defensive scheme asks Williams to two-gap a lot. Is Mykel athletic enough to shoot between the Tackle and Guard and get into the backfield? Yes… But then he risks surrendering his edge. Williams used his athleticism to force ball carriers towards the middle of the field where his LB’s and DT’s can stuff the run.
That ability to play two gaps at once is rare, and it offers UGA a massive strategic advantage. By controlling multiple gaps with one defensive lineman, Georgia can play with less defenders near the line of scrimmage. That give the UGA secondary more bodies to defend the pass with, and it is one of the biggest reasons why Kirby Smart’s program produces elite defenses year after year.
Those skills often take years to develop, but Williams was properly executing his assignments along Georgia’s front after only being on campus for 8 months. Mykel is still raw, and we saw him improve as the 2022 season went on.
Williams is still developing an arsenal of pass rush moves, but the most promising sign for his future is that his two sacks in the College Football Playoff came in very different ways.
Against Ohio State, Williams lined up across from Paris Johnson. Coming into the matchup with UGA, Johnson had only allowed one sack. Johnson has long arms, good feet, and measures in at 6’6” and 313 pounds. In other words, he is built like a first round pick and he played like it all season.
With UGA trailing by a touchdown midway through the second quarter, the Dawgs defense had forced OSU into a third-and-long and needed to get off the field. With the Buckeyes in an obvious passing situation, Williams lined up further outside than normal. At the snap he came screaming off the edge and used his 34+ inch arms to keep Johnson from recovering. Mykel was on top of CJ Stroud in an instant for a sack.
In Georgia’s next game against TCU, Williams recorded a sack in a different way. On that play Williams is lined up tighter into the line on a 1st & 10 where TCU wasn’t in an obvious passing situation. He is set up more like a true 4 or 4I DE with his shoulders square to the LT or maybe shaded slightly inside. The TCU LT gets his hands on Williams at the snap. Mykel starts working towards the tackle’s outside and chops his arms down multiple times. That gets the tackle leaning forward. Once the tackle leans, Williams rips past him and crashes into Duggan.
For Georgia fans and observers of football, this is heady stuff. Williams is young and has a ton of time to improve his game, but he is already proving to be an instinctive pass rusher with multiple moves. Williams is already a fantastic run defender. He will continue to perfect those pass rush moves and add to them, and that means he has the potential to become one of the most complete defensive linemen we have seen in a long time.
The 6 sacks Williams recorded last season were the most on Georgia’s national championship winning team. As he continues to grow, offenses are likely to use TE’s and RB’s to try and provide help to overmatched left tackles in obvious passing situations. With the amount of pass rushing talent that UGA returns up front next year, the attention Williams could draw is likely to result in more sacks for everyone else.
In addition to the physical gifts that Williams brings, sources have told DawgsCentral that Mykel has emerged as a vocal leader through the first couple weeks of UGA’s spring practices. It is always a good sign for a team when its best leaders are also its best players. Mykel checks both those boxes.
Williams is the clear incumbent at his DE position but someone will have to step up to replace Nolan Smith and Robert Beal Jr. on the opposite edge. With a new group of five-star pass rushers now on campus, it is a good sign that Williams is upholding the same standard that Smith and Beal taught him a year ago.
If UGA is able to capture its third straight title the leadership and play of Williams is likely to be a big reason why.