Our countdown of Georgia's important players for 2014 enters the single digits. A reminder: This is not a ranking of the team's best players. Rather it's a look at the players who are most vital to the team's success. That takes into account the team's strengths and weaknesses, the depth at certain positions, and the importance of each position.
That brings us to ...
9. JORDAN JENKINS
WHY HE’S VITAL: Last year Jenkins was expected to move into the pass-rushing spot vacated by all-American Jarvis Jones – and it wasn’t just media and fans expecting it, Jenkins did too. He set his goal as a “minimum of 10 sacks.” Instead he only had five, equaling his freshman year output, as well as the same amount of QB pressures, all this while playing more. Some of the slack was picked up by Leonard Floyd and the defensive line. But ultimately Jenkins’ somewhat disappointing season was an underplayed part of Georgia’s defensive struggles. A more consistent pass rush would have helped on some of those third downs. Jenkins blamed himself for not working hard enough in the lead-up to his sophomore season, something Mark Richt disputed, saying the linebacker was being too hard on himself. Whatever the case, Jenkins could be due for a market correction upwards, and if that happens it’s another reason Georgia’s defense can be better in 2014.
QUOTABLE: “(Sophomore) year I didn’t feel like I was all that consistent. I had a game here, a game there. I’ll have a different outlook on this offseason, and I might be coming up to the junior year, which a lot of people call the money year, or the time you differentiate yourself from a regular college football player, or a possible NFL player.”
BEST CASE: Sailing past 10 sacks and being a first-team all-SEC pick isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Jenkins has trimmed down – from about 265 pounds last season to 250 – as part of Jeremy Pruitt’s emphasis on getting a quicker defense. Jenkins could also be aided by Leonard Floyd’s continued emergence at the other outside linebacker spot. They both can’t be double-blocked.
WORST CASE: Jenkins has another so-so year, and can’t make the difference on those critical passing downs. The anomaly turns out to be Jenkins’ freshman year, and the whispers grow louder that he only benefitted playing on the opposite side of Jones.
FINAL WORD: If it all comes together for Jenkins this year, his disappointing sophomore season will be a long forgotten. And the truth is he didn’t have that bad a year in 2013, when he was named to the coaches’ all-SEC second-team. Plus, the good news for those worrying that Jenkins did benefit as a freshman from Jones’ presence is that a lot of people think Floyd can be as good, if not better, than Jones. They can’t both have so-so years, right?