Georgia football: top five juniors from the 2018 Bulldogs

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 1: Mecole Hardman #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 1: Mecole Hardman #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Georgia football unfortunately lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But the Bulldogs are 11-2 and the current juniors have a 32-9 record.

5. Tyler Clark – DE

Despite being a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Tyler Clark didn’t receive much attention when he arrived in Athens. But in his three year’s, he’s appeared in 35 games, was sixth on the team with tackles last season and had another solid season this year with 26 tackles. His four tackles for a loss were also tied for fourth.

4. Riley Ridley – WR

After catching just 26 passes in his first two Georgia football seasons, Riley Ridley emerged as one of the SEC’s best receivers in his junior season. He’s surpassed his previous two years with 38 catches with 498 yards and a team leading nine touchdowns.

Ridley had two five-catch games this season, first against Missouri and the other versus Vanderbilt. The Missouri game provided his second biggest highlight of his career when he made a leaping grab on the sideline and landed in bounds with no one behind him. He jogged easily in for his third touchdown of 2018. He also had three four-catch games; South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.

According to College Football Film Room, 60-percent of Ridley’s catches resulted in a first down or touchdown. A stat that led the SEC in the regular season. He didn’t drop a pass all year either. Hopefully he decides to stay for his senior year, Ridley might have a season to remember in 2019.

3. J.R. Reed – S

J.R. Reed was once again one of the best tacklers in the nation, making 58 and rarely missing. That was evident in his yards allowed per target average. CFB Film Room records him as only allowing 6.8 yards per target, fourth-best in Georgia’s dominant defensive backfield.

Reed, as a safety, commonly played deep coverage. Only eight of 28 passes thrown deep against Georgia were completed in the regular season for a mere 280 yards and three touchdowns. Reed will most likely stay for his senior season as he still needs to improve in coverage. But if he’s near a ball carrier or a targeted receiver, Reed is going to make the play almost every time.

2. Mecole Hardman – WR/KR

With 540 receiving yards, Mecole Hardman ranks first on the team in 2018. He also added 36 rushing yards and 646 kick return yards, giving him a team second-best 1,222 all-purpose yards. Hardman scored six times as a receiver and once as a punt returner as well.

He’s just a dangerous player who can turn any play into a big gain at any time if given the chance. Especially on screen passes where he accumulated 141 yards, good enough for a best in the SEC average of 9.36 yards-per-screen according to CFB Film Room.

1. Elijah Holyfield – RB

After two years in the shadow of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Elijah Holyfield stepped out and became a star. If he gains just 44 rushing yards against Texas, he’ll join D’Andre Swift above the 1,000-yard mark. But Holyfield gained his yards very differently than Swift. He punished opposing defenses and was one of the toughest players to tackle.

According to CFB Film Room, Holyfield ranked sixth in rush attempts per missed tackle (6.08) and he had the second highest percentage of rushes gaining over 10 yards (21.9).

Holyfield clearly has a lot to live up to. He’s the son of a former heavyweight boxing champion playing running back for a program known as “Running Back U.” I’d say he’s lived up to both his name, and the running back legacy at UGA. He’s 32nd in school history in rushing yards with 1,278. Assuming he stays for his senior year, he’ll at least crack the top-15 in career rushing yards at Georgia. Not bad for someone who had to wait two years behind a pair of legends.

Next. Top 30 player of the Mark Richt era. dark

The current juniors are a special class at Georgia. They’ll become the first to spend their entire career’s with Kirby Smart. They’ve helped lead Georgia to a pair of SEC East Championships and have the program trending higher than it ever has before.