Can Georgia Tech find defensive playmakers in ’18 class?

1:37 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com
Georgia Tech players run on to the field before the start of the Georgia Tech season opener against the Alcorn State Braves in Bobby Dodd Stadium on Thursday, September 3, 2015. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

As Georgia Tech’s 2018 recruiting class has come together, high-profile cornerback commit Jaylon King hasn’t been immune from checking out his future teammates’ highlight videos.

“I want to see what they’re working with,” King said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the four-star linebacker from the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., offers his approval.

“I think our class is coming along pretty well,” he said. “I think there’s a couple more positions on both sides of the ball. I think we’ll have a pretty strong class coming into Georgia Tech next year.”

While rankings and stars are to be taken with a grain of salt, Tech’s 18 committed prospects, all expected to sign Wednesday when college football’s inaugural early signing period begins, bring added hope that the Jackets will add the defensive playmakers that they’ve needed.

King, who turned down offers from Tennessee, Louisville and Ole Miss to come to Tech, is one. At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he brings length to the position that figures to help him break up passes and contend with wide receivers.

“I plan on taking the deep ball away,” King said.

Another is linebacker Justice Dingle, from Bowling Green (Ky.) High, who selected the Jackets over offers from Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisville and Virginia.

“I think he’s got the right stuff – his physical tools and the type of person he is,” said Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace, who knows a little bit about the subject matter. He has developed players who’ve won five state championships in the past seven seasons.

A third is defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza of Dacula, who has attended IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and will enroll in January. Chimedza was recruited by Georgia, Florida State and Oregon, typically not the suitors whom the Jackets beat out for signees.

By the evaluation of 247 Sports, King is ranked the No. 327 prospect nationally, followed by Dingle at 504 and Chimedza at 538. By ranking, that places all three in the top 12 percentile of prospects signed by Tech between 2013-17. (Though, truthfully, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. Others in that top tier include guards Shamire Devine and Parker Braun, but also five players who played a combined three games for the Jackets before transferring.)

That group also includes three defenders signed last year who hold promising futures – linebackers Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Jaquan Henderson, cornerback Tre Swilling and safety Kaleb Oliver. In limited action this past season, Jordan-Swilling, despite being new to linebacker, produced two tackles for loss, an interception, two passes defensed, a forced fumble, a quarterback hurry and a recovery. He was the only player on the defense to record plays in all six of those categories.

Altogether, at least 11 of the 18 commits are on the defensive side of the ball, offering more chances for Tech to find the playmakers that the defense needs. Tech became a top-15 defense on third down (30.9 percent), a vast improvement from finishing 126th last season (49.2 percent). An area where Tech has lagged is in making plays such as negative plays, pass breakups and turnovers.

The Jackets have ranked no better than 118th in the past four seasons in tackles for loss per game, a source of frustration for coach Paul Johnson and a reason why defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s status remains unclear almost a month since the end of the season.

As King watched Tech games this season, he saw that Tech cornerbacks were often in position to defend passes, but lacked the length to get their hands on passes.

“They tend to be in good position, it’s just going up against 6-3 receivers with 5-10, 5-11 is kind of tough,” King said.

King said that coaches (he was primarily recruited by safeties coach Andy McCollum and cornerbacks coach Joe Speed) told him that they were focusing on defensive backs with height and long reach. Another is cornerback Zamari Walton from Melbourne, Fla., a 6-0 prospect whose ability to use his length in both football and basketball is obvious in his highlight videos.

There’s also the possibility that Tech could add more to its class. Jamarcus Chatman, a defensive end from Rome High, is in the mix after recently withdrawing his commitment from Tennessee in the wake of the Volunteers’ coaching change. North Carolina and Michigan State are also reportedly in the chase. Chatman will likely make his decision in the standard February signing period.

Chatman, who led the Wolves to back-to-back 5A state championships, is ranked the No. 29 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 409 player overall.

“I don’t really know much about him,” King said. “I know that we’re kind of recruiting him hard.”

View full experience