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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Top Georgia sleepers

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- With barely two weeks remaining until national signing day, this is a good time to not only project the futures of the respective prospects, but also look backward at players who entered college with modest expectations and performed solidly.

Let’s take a look at five Georgia “sleepers” since 2006 -- when ESPN first started its recruiting enterprise -- who exceeded our expectations after their arrival on campus.

1. Geno Atkins: Atkins was far from being the most heralded member of Georgia’s 2006 recruiting class -- not in a class that featured 12 ESPN 150 selections including quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno and safety Reshad Jones. In fact, only four of Georgia’s signees that year received a lower grade from ESPN’s scouts than Atkins, whom we rated as the nation’s No. 50 defensive tackle prospect that year.

Geno Atkins
Former UGA star Geno Atkins has excelled in the NFL.
But Atkins obviously proved his skeptics wrong, winning All-SEC honors in 2007 and 2009 and becoming an NFL draft pick with the Cincinnati Bengals. In three seasons in the league, Atkins has reached the Pro Bowl twice and he set a new franchise record for sacks by an interior lineman with 12.5 this season.

2. Clint Boling: Boling was ESPN’s lowest-rated high school position player in Georgia’s 2007 signing class, although the evaluation pegged him as a defensive lineman rather than the spot he eventually landed: offensive line. Actually the scouting report on Boling read that “we would not be surprised to see” the No. 112 defensive end prospect “end up on the offensive side of the ball in college as either a tight end or tackle.”

That’s exactly what happened, as Boling started the last 11 games on the offensive line as a true freshman, made 49 starts overall and became a three-time All-SEC pick before getting drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals after his senior season.

3. Cordy Glenn: Overall, ESPN’s scouts turned in a fairly positive evaluation of Glenn’s capabilities, but the monstrous offensive lineman still received one of the lowest grades in Georgia’s 2008 signing class as the No. 74 offensive tackle. Instead of redshirting as his scouting report recommended, however, Glenn started 10 games as a true freshman, 50 games in his career (a record for UGA offensive linemen) and emerged as one of the top offensive line prospects in the 2012 NFL draft.

Glenn started 13 games as a rookie this season for the Buffalo Bills, who selected him in the second round of last year’s draft.

4. Kenarious Gates: If it isn’t obvious by this point, grading linemen is often one of the trickiest elements of recruiting analysis, particularly when the player competes in a small classification in high school. Such was the case with Gates when ESPN’s scouting evaluation proclaimed that he was “not an immediate starter of early impact player at the BCS level of play” and that “time and a redshirt year will be necessary to fully develop his playing strength and technical skills.”

But Gates -- a two-star prospect and No. 139 offensive tackle in 2010 -- proved us wrong by starting three games as a true freshman, 26 in his first three seasons and becoming one of Georgia’s most versatile linemen.

5. Michael Bennett: ESPN’s 2010 scouting report on Bennett was mostly complimentary, noting that he was a “good prospect that would be a tough competitor with some playmaking skills.” And while he was only the No. 107 wide receiver prospect in that year’s class, he has proven that assessment to be true in college.

Bennett enjoyed a solid redshirt freshman season with 320 receiving yards in 2011, but he was in the middle of a breakout 2012 when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice leading up to the South Carolina game. In the first five games, Bennett led the Bulldogs with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns, and he is expected to again rank among Georgia’s top receivers when he returns from the injury this fall.