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…
#17 - Dominic Lovett
UGA rarely takes transfers. There are a few reasons why…
The Bulldogs recruiting has been as elite as any team in the nation since Kirby Smart arrived. Georgia has signed 7 straight classes ranked in the top three nationally. Every position room is stacked with blue-chip talent.
Georgia’s staff has been excellent when it comes to evaluating high-school prospects. UGA signs a lot of four and five-star prospects, but it also has a tremendous hit rate on lower ranked players. Over 25% of the three-star recruits that Georgia has brought in under Smart have been drafted by the NFL. That is over five times the national average. If UGA is signing a player who isn’t highly rated then it usually means they know something that the recruiting services don’t. Even when Georgia misses on a highly rated recruit, it doesn’t usually miss out on filling its needs at the position.
Georgia develops its talent as well as any program in college football. That pipeline of talent we’re talking about above? It isn’t static. When it shows up it is nurtured from every conceivable direction by a team of nutritionists, strength coaches, and football experts. The UGA machine takes players who are already very good and makes them stronger, faster, and technically sound. If weaknesses exist in a player’s game they are erased or minimized. After a player has been exposed to the UGA process for years they are usually ready to shine.
UGA has won back-to-back national championships, but that winning comes at a price. If you want to play for Georgia you have to work harder than you would at a lot of programs. Practices are more physical and coaches are more demanding. Everyone wants to win in football, but not everyone is willing to suffer to do it. If you want to play for Georgia you have to be willing to suffer a little bit.
After Georgia’s national title season in 2021 the Bulldogs chose not to bring any players in through the portal. Smart bet on the guys he had on his roster and it paid off in a 15-0 season. That is why it made a pretty significant statement when the Bulldogs brought Dominic Lovett and Rara Thomas into their WR room this offseason.
Now that AD Mitchell has left the program the move looks prophetic, but it is worth remembering that Georgia felt strongly enough about Lovett and Thomas to bring them in before Mitchell had left for Texas. So why did he do it?
Look at UGA’s 2023 roster and you will notice the absence of Darnell Washington. The Bulldogs have talented young TE’s in the program like Oscar Delp, Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin, but Washington’s blocking ability as an inline TE was rare. UGA ran more two and three TE sets than anyone in college football besides Utah the last two seasons. Now that Washington is gone, Georgia is unlikely to use personnel groupings with multiple TE’s as much.
That means the Bulldogs are going to have to get more production from their wideouts. It also means they will have to do it without the benefit of the Washington/Bowers duo being the focus of opposing defenses.
The most impressive thing about Georgia’s back-to-back championship seasons is that it was missing its #1 wideouts for most of the time. George Pickens was never fully healthy for UGA in 2021. AD Mitchell played only 3 games at full speed for the Dawgs in 2022.
In 2022, three of Georgia’s four leading receivers were Brock Bowers, Kenny McIntosh and Darnell Washington. With two of those players gone to the NFL, Georgia will probably have to get much more production from its wideouts next season.
UGA got an extremely productive season out of Ladd McConkey in 2022 but he is not a traditional X-Receiver. He lined up on the boundary on 75.4% of snaps for UGA but his size and quick twitch ability is also valuable in the slot.
In Dominic Lovett the Bulldogs have another receiver who has proven himself in the SEC. Like McConkey, he has experience both inside and outside. In 2021 at Missouri he took 77.6% of his snaps on the boundary. In 2022 he took nearly 84% of them in the slot.
Lovett went for 100+ yards in three SEC games last season and Georgia saw his skillset firsthand when it played Missouri. In that game he had 6 catches for 84 yards on 7 targets. He is extremely efficient, catching 73.7% of his targets last year while pulling down 56 catches for 828 yards.
Lovett creates separation frequently and put up strong numbers last year despite middling quarterback play at Mizzou. He can work every part of the field and is strong with both deep and intermediate routes. Lovett is also elite after the catch. He averaged 7.2 yards after the catch per a reception in 2022. That ability will make him an important part of Georgia’s screen game next season as well.
I have written for a couple years now about a stat called Yards Per Route Run. 2.00 YRR is the benchmark of a very good wideout. 2.50 YRR is elite. Only 3 players in the leagues had a YRR of over 2.50 last season- Jalin Hyatt (3.27), Dominic Lovett (2.94) and Malik Heath (2.56).
Only 19 SEC players had at least 50 targets and a YRR of over 1.99 last season. Many of them have graduated or moved on to the NFL. A whopping FOUR of them will catch passes for Georgia next year.
- Dominic Lovett 2.94 YRR
- Brock Bowers 2.37 YRR
- Ladd McConkey 2.16 YRR
- Rara Thomas 1.99 YRR
In short, Georgia will have more proven pass catchers next year than anyone in the SEC or the entire country. Amongst the wideouts, Lovett might be the best of them all. He was extremely productive at Missouri despite defenses keying on how to stop him. With Bowers demanding attention over the middle of the field and McConkey’s history of creating separation on deep routes with double-moves, Lovett will have space to work with the weapons surrounding him in Athens.
The 2023 Georgia offense will need to get more production out of its wide-receivers if it wants to grab a third straight national title. Dominic Lovett’s play will be a big factor in determining if the Bulldogs have enough firepower to win it all again.