ATHENS – This seems a good time to remind everyone that this is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players. If it were, Jarvis Jones would certainly be in the top five. In fact, considering he plays both outside linebacker spots, both end spots, and occasionally inside linebacker, you might rank Jones as Georgia’s top five players.
But, as we’ve been reminding you incessantly, we are ranking Georgia’s 10 most important players as it pertains to the upcoming season. That takes into account … you might know the refrain by now … the Bulldogs’ concerns and weaknesses, depth at their position, and overall importance to the team.
We are doing this list in descending order, counting down to the team’s most important player for 2012. No. 10 was Corey Moore, then Isaiah Crowell, and John Theus, and Shawn Williams, and now …
WHY HE'S VITAL: Need we explain? Well okay … Jones led the SEC with 13.5 sacks, with a total of 19.5 tackles-for-loss, and was second on the Bulldogs with 70 tackles. He is invaluable to Georgia, and if something were to happen to him – or if he were to somehow not be effective this season – the loss would be felt. Jones is good against both the pass and run. He racked up the sacks last year, but stayed on the field on obvious rushing downs. He is one of the main linchpins to the Georgia defense. So why isn’t he higher on this list? Because football is still a team game, and Georgia is so deep on defense. Cornelius Washington and a bevy of freshmen (notably Jordan Jenkins and Josh Harvey-Clemons) can play the edge rush spots. The inside linebacker spot is loaded. So conceivably, the Georgia defense could still do well without a big year from Jones. But the Bulldogs don’t want to test that theory.
QUOTABLE: “I’m really not trying to be a standout, I’m trying to go out there and play my role. And go out there and have fun doing it. Just make plays, you know.”
BEST CASE: Can Jones actually do better than last season? Perhaps, but the Bulldogs would probably just take similar production to his debut season in the SEC. In fact, a drop-off – at least in stats – is very possible, as other teams gameplan around him. In that case, it could open up things for other defensive stars, especially Washington or the inside guys, if teams try to avoid Jones by running up the gut. So really with Jones there are two best-case scenarios: He replicates his 2011 season and once again leads a dominant defense, or other teams worry about him so much it leads to more stars emerging.
WORST CASE: Other than injury? Jones is too good to just struggle on his own, but other teams could figure out how to gameplan around him – and not have his supporting cast make up for it. Really, any worst-case scenario likely revolve around the secondary. Jones can continue to be dominant, but he can’t play safety or cornerback, so if other teams are able to take advantage of Georgia’s issues back there, that neutralizes Jones.
FINAL WORD: Jones is a star, and was a major reason for Georgia’s defensive turnaround. If he stays on track he should be a star again – but he can’t do it all himself.