NFL Draft reminds us why Alabama football remains ahead of Georgia, Kirby Smart | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer
USA TODAY NETWORK

Kirby Smart put Alabama on notice during his second year as Georgia’s football coach. The Bulldogs won the SEC Championship in 2017, then signed the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.

It marked the first time Georgia’s recruiting class outranked Alabama’s in the 247Sports Composite since 2007, which was Nick Saban’s first signing class. Georgia signed seven five-star prospects in that 2018 recruiting class, compared to Alabama’s two. The Crimson Tide’s class ranked fifth that year.

The question emerged: If Smart could whip Saban on the recruiting trail, could he also knock Alabama off college football’s throne?

It hasn’t happened. Last week’s NFL Draft reminded us why.

Georgia had a school-record nine players selected in the draft. Alabama tied Ohio State with the most players selected this year, with 10 apiece.

The telling disparity, though, is that six of Alabama’s draftees were selected in the first round, tying Miami’s 2004 record for most first-round selections in a draft.

Extend it a bit further, and Alabama had eight players selected within the first 38 picks of the draft. Georgia had three players selected in the first 50 picks. Six of Georgia’s nine selections came in Rounds 3 through 7.

Other than on-field performance, two main avenues exist to evaluate how well a coach is building a program: recruiting rankings and NFL Draft production.

Smart has pulled even with Saban in the former, but not the latter. Alabama’s coach remains the nation’s best at developing talent and sending it to the NFL.

Georgia’s signing class has ranked in the top five of the 247Sports Composite national rankings in each of the past five years. Before Smart replaced Mark Richt, Georgia hadn’t signed a top-five recruiting class since 2009.

During this five-year span, Smart signed the nation’s No. 1-ranked class in 2018 and 2020. Alabama claimed the top-ranked class in the other three years. Georgia’s average class ranking during that stretch is 2.2. Alabama’s is 2.0 – a negligible difference.

The separation appears when looking at the draft. (Saban also is 3-0 against Smart on the field.)

Alabama has had 29 players selected in the past three drafts, including 13 first-round picks. Georgia has produced 23 draft picks during that three-year span, but just four first-round picks.

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Recent quarterback disparity is apparent, too.

The New England Patriots selected Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick on Thursday, giving Alabama first-round quarterbacks in each of the past two years.

One Georgia quarterback has been drafted during Smart’s tenure. Jake Fromm went in the fifth round to the Buffalo Bills last year, making him the first Georgia quarterback drafted since Aaron Murray in 2014.

Justin Fields, the five-star quarterback who signed with Georgia as part of that ballyhooed 2018 class, transferred to Ohio State. The Chicago Bears made him the No. 11 overall pick on Thursday.

Of the seven five-star prospects Georgia signed in its 2018 class, three transferred. Fields and linebacker Brenton Cox Jr., who transferred to Florida, lasted one season in Athens. Offensive lineman Cade Mays transferred to Tennessee after two seasons at Georgia.

Three of the five-star signees from that class – running back Zamir White, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer and linebacker Adam Anderson – remain at Georgia. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected cornerback Tyson Campbell, the other five-star signee, with the first pick in the second round on Friday.

Georgia’s draft production has improved since Smart became coach ahead of the 2016 season, after he served as Saban’s longtime defensive coordinator.

From 2006-16, the Bulldogs produced just seven first-round draft picks. They’ve produced seven first-round selections in the past four years combined.

Still, a gap remains between the level of NFL talent Georgia is supplying compared to Alabama.

Smart pulled Georgia alongside Alabama in recruiting, but he won’t put his program on par with the Crimson Tide unless the NFL Draft production becomes comparable.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.