Georgia football: 30 greatest players of the Mark Richt era

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Mark Richt, Georgia Bulldogs
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Georgia Bulldogs won a ton of games during the 15 years Mark Richt led the team. Here are the 30 greatest Georgia football players of the Richt era.

While the Georgia Bulldogs have emerged as a perennial College Football Playoff contender under head coach Kirby Smart, we would be foolish to not talk about the great work his predecessor Mark Richt did before him in Athens.

Richt was the Top Dawg in Athens from 2001 to 2015, winning nearly everything, but a national title while he was there. He went 145-51 overall, 83-37 in SEC play and 9-5 in 14 bowl games. The Dawgs won the SEC twice in 2002 and in 2005, the SEC East outright on five occasions and over 10 games in a season nine times.

Though he was fired at the end of the 2015 NCAA regular season for his inability to get a team loaded with top-five talent into the national championship conversation, Smart would not have been able to have the early success in Athens without the foundation Richt set before him.

Prior to Richt’s arrival in 2001, Georgia had struggled to find consistency in the head coaching department after Vince Dooley’s retirement in 1988. Though the Bulldogs had great players in both the Ray Goff and Jim Donnan eras, Georgia managed just two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2000.

Richt brought an end to that. With many of Donnan’s players, and some he recruited himself fresh out of the Florida State Seminoles offensive coordinator gig, Richt quickly had the Dawgs back in the national conversation for the first time since the 1980s under Dooley.

Though a great coach in his own right, Richt would not have been able to win nearly 150 games at UGA without some outstanding players. He’ll certainly have some more in his new gig leading his alma mater in the Miami Hurricanes. But for now, here are the 30 greatest players to have played for the Dawgs during the 15-year Richt era in Athens.

Honorable Mentions: Billy Bennett, Michael Bennett, Clint Boling, Brandon Boykin, Thomas Brown, Chris Conley, Brandon Coutu, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Gordon Ely-Kelso, Fred Gibson, Amarlo Herrera, John Jenkins, Jordan Jenkins, Tavarres King, Arthur Lynch, Sony Michel, Malcolm Mitchell, Marshall Morgan, Leonard Pope, Musa Smith, Johnathan Sullivan, Damian Swann, Blair Walsh, Benjamin Watson, Ramik Wilson

Geno Atkins, Georgia Bulldogs
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
  • First-Team All-SEC (2007)
  • 33.5 tackles for a loss of yardage
  • 11.0 quarterback sacks

Before Geno Atkins became the monstrous three-time All-Pro defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, he first made a name for himself playing on Richt’s defensive line at Georgia. Atkins was a highly productive defensive end coming out of high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His first season in Athens would be in 2006.

Atkins quickly carved out a rotational role on the deep Georgia defensive line as a freshman, appearing in 11 games in 2006. However, it was in 2007 that he best showcased his abilities to become a superstar in the NFL.

Atkins had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2007. He set career highs in tackles (41), tackles for a loss of yardage (15.0) and quarterback sacks (7.5). During that impressive sophomore campaign of his, he would often lead the defensive line in all three of those defensive categories in games.

His great play that fall had Georgia earn a share of the SEC East crown with Tennessee. Georgia finished the 2007 NCAA season ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll after beating the Hawaii Warriors in the 2008 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Atkins would be named First-Team All-SEC in 2007. The only other Georgia player to garner that league-wide recognition that fall would be redshirt freshman running back Knowshon Moreno. Along with quarterback Matthew Stafford and Moreno, Atkins was a big reason the Dawgs entered the 2008 NCAA season ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Sadly, Georgia wouldn’t eclipse the heights of the Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii while Atkins was in school. He played with the Dawgs through the 2009 NCAA season before being a fourth-round pick by the Bengals in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Overall, Atkins ended up with 120 total tackles, 33.5 for a loss of yardage and 11.0 quarterback sacks in his four years with the Georgia program.

To best summarize Atkins’ time in Athens, his talent as a playmaker along the defensive line was always there, but Georgia’s inability to play in a meaningful bowl game when he was an upperclassmen has him barely cracking this list at No. 30.