Who will take over where Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno left off? That's an easy question to answer – sophomore sensation A.J. Green. The Summerville, SC native exploded on the scene last season for the Dawgs, and is on the cover of virtually every pre-season publication where a Bulldog is featured. He is on the cover of this month's Dawg Post, and our publication is comfortable naming him the Next Big Thing.
It might seem obvious to most that Green, who is still eligible because he is going into his sophomore year, would be the one picked for the honor. Paralysis by analysis? Not here at Dawg Post – we are going with the easy and most obvious pick. Green was named the SEC Freshman of the Year for 2008, and it is easy to see why. His 56 catches and 963 yards were the best by a Bulldog freshman since Terrance Edwards burst out nearly ten years ago. Unlike Edwards, however, Green seems like a can't-miss NFL prospect. He hasn't made any declarations, but his career seems destined to be a three-year one at Georgia.
If that's the case, Green will be the top target of the Dawgs over the next two seasons. Watch – it won't bother him one bit to have three (or more) signal callers tossing him the pigskin during his career in Silver Britches. Green might not break all of the receiving records at Georgia, but he will go down as the greatest receiver ever to have played at Georgia.
The emergence of another weapon for the Dawgs will allow Green to roam free a little more often in 2009 and beyond, but that is no given considering the limited numbers at receiver and the lack of experience in the backfield. Although he might be a heck of a decoy for the Dawgs (he will likely be shaded or double teamed this fall and next), Green will still give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares-- he is just too difficult to stop. Green's length, athleticism and (perhaps most importantly) his pass-catching ability set him apart from almost every receiver in the SEC (Alabama's Julio Jones is pretty darn good, too).
Green, who enjoys riding horses and four-wheelers while at home in the Palmetto State, may have been overshadowed by Moreno and Stafford last season, but 2009 will be a different story. The mild-mannered sophomore is Georgia's Next Big Thing.
Knowledgeable football fans understand why the center position is an important one. A good center makes people forget about the necessity of good play at that position. Ben Jones, who started by the end of September as a true freshman, looks like the type of guy Georgia can pencil in as the starter at center for the next three years. Getting recognition for a spot that is hardly sexy can be difficult when you are so young, but rest assured that Jones is one of the best young centers in the country. The Alabama native does it with a passion and a bad case of the "want-tos" – something which often has him mentioned in the same breath as former Georgia stars David Pollack and Knowshon Moreno with regards to their passion for the game.
Jones will be given more responsibility this fall – more should be expected of him as he has just as much experience as any other offensive lineman with the exception of Clint Boling and Chris Davis – both juniors this fall. The SEC has become flush with powerful and relentless nose guards. Ben Jones' play in the fall will help determine if the Dawgs have a running attack to speak of, and if Joe Cox will have time to distribute the ball out of the backfield.
A little buzz has been building about Carlton Thomas. A firecracker of a running back, Thomas gives Georgia the ability to strike at any time. He's tough, too. Thomas does just fine sticking his nose in there between the tackles to get difficult yards. I am not suggesting Thomas will be Georgia's every-down back in 2009 because I don't think there will be one. While Caleb King and Richard Samuel, more traditional backs, fight it out for as much playing time as possible, Thomas will provide the Dawgs with something new – something neither King nor Samuel can bring. Thomas' ability to make a move is pretty impressive. He was the only Dawg to score a touchdown at Georgia's spring game - but the game was such a bore I wonder if anyone even noticed.
Thomas will also have the ability to show his stuff as a return man on special teams. He could be a deadly return man coupled with Brandon Boykin. Georgia needs to improve on that aspect of the program. It seems the kickoff team has struggled over the last few years. If Thomas can bring some consistency to that position alone his scholarship will be justified.
It appears Brandon Boykin will be a fixture in Georgia's secondary over the next few years. The sophomore, who has gained 20 pounds of muscle since enrolling last summer, is poised to be the starting strong cornerback for the next three seasons. He will also be asked to share kickoff return duties in the future. That's important because the Dawgs have struggled mightily to get that aspect of their program in order for some time now.
Unexpectedly losing Asher Allen to the NFL in the spring may have focused the attention on Boykin during Georgia's spring drills, but he quickly pushed his way out of the pack to snag the starting spot. Now he will be challenged – sometimes in one-on-one situations – in the SEC, and he needs to perform for the Dawgs to have a shot in big contests like the LSU and Florida games. Those programs have playmakers on the edge – Boykin needs to counter that with playmaking ability himself. He has the ability to do so – a formidable force on the hardwood and the gridiron, Boykin was a star at Fayette County and took the Tigers farther in the state playoffs than they had been in recent memory. Now the Dawgs are asking him to use that same ability to at least slow down the opposition.
A quick look back at Dawg Post's Next Big Thing from the last few years:
2007's Next Big Thing
12th overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft
Moreno was the inaugural selection for the award in 2007. Dawg Post put the redshirt freshman on the cover of the September edition of the magazine – before Moreno ever took a snap in a game. As it turns out, Moreno became one of the most dynamic running backs ever – arguably the second-best running back in school history behind Herschel Walker. Moreno ended his Georgia career with 2,734 career yards (in only two seasons) with 30 touchdowns.
2008's Next Big Thing
Jones' 2008 season was his first as the full-time starter at safety. He ended the season with 76 tackles, one quarterback hurry, three pass breakups and five interceptions. Jones had six tackles against Auburn and Florida, and against South Carolina where he also had a game-clinching interception near the goal line to preserve the Dawgs' 14-7 win. He also had nine tackles and an interception against Georgia Tech. But Jones' best game came in the Dawgs win over #11 LSU. In that game the Atlanta native racked up 12 tackles.