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The Upper North Perspective: A Ranking of Positional Strength

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There is talent and question marks in each position group, so which group is the strongest going into fall?

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia
All the groups want to be the best, but which one stands out the most?
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Position Rankings

Welcome back to The Upper North Perspective. Sorry for the delay this week! It has been an interesting week for me as I had all my research and pre-work done for a column drilling a little deeper into the defense to continue with the theme of the week at FTRS; however, that is not the column coming to you today. Due to various reasons of the technical and everyday life variety, that column will come to you next week instead. Please feel free to suggest in the comments or to me on Twitter some things you would like for me to look at on the defensive side of the ball. I still have the majority of the research done, but I have time to adjust the focus of the column if there is a particular area that has a lot of interest.

Today, I plan to take a look at the positions that have been previewed at FTRS and give a ranking of the strength of the positions for 2016 from worst to first. The results of last season will impact my rankings, but the potential of each position will weigh heavily as well. We will be looking at why they are ranked where they are, the impact player in the group, and one player to watch. These are solely my ranks and opinions and may conflict with some of the other reports here.

8. Wide Receivers

This is really less of an indictment on the group as a whole and more of a question of the depth at the position. This is simply the position of potential with a lot of unknown. I feel that Ricky Jeune will take the next step forward in his development, and I think the top end potential here is to see the type of jump that Demaryius Thomas had from 2008 to 2009. That is a big jump to make, but the potential is there if the offense clicks this year. Even if Jeune makes half the jump that Bey-Bey did in 2009, Tech will benefit from a great year.

Questions abound outside of Jeune. I wanted to narrow down one specific player to watch here, but I am going to hedge my bet and say Mikell Lands-Davis, Christian Philpott, or Stephen Dolphus could step up here. All three are great athletes and have the ability to push this group to the next level.

7. Defensive Back

There is a lot that still needs to be decided in the defensive back group as all four starters are gone. There are a lot of guys in the group that have served some quality minutes, and based simply on ability, I wanted to put this group a lot higher. There is just too much undecided at this point. Georgia Tech potentially has its best all around player in this group in AJ Gray. He will be starting going into his sophomore year at one of the safety positions and showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Keep an eye on the converted QB Christian Campbell at safety. If he comes into fall camp ready, he has the athleticism to be playing a lot of minutes, or even starting, going into Ireland. This group could vault up the rankings if the athleticism and raw talent that this group brings to the table shows through in their play on the field. We are looking at what will be a dynamic group in the coming years.

6. Offensive Line

We will find out soon what the problem was last year. It could be youth, inexperience, scheme, or talent. I tend to lean on the inexperience end of the spectrum with eyes too wide as the season wore on, but there are enough questions to be in a wait and see approach on this group. The group has gotten more talented top to bottom, but is there a Shaq Mason on the line to take them to the next level?

The impact player of the group is the senior leader, Freddie Burden. Freddie is a versatile lineman up front and carries the tradition of strong centers for us. Freddie could have the type of year that would put him in discussion for an NFL opportunity. I could not decide on just one player to watch, so I selected two. Will Bryan and Shamire Devine could really take this offense to 2014 heights. Bryan has another year under his belt, and Shamire is simply working his butt off in the offseason to get right for the year.

5. Linebackers

The linebacker group is special at the top, but there are questions all around after the top two. The key for the group will be finding a couple of guys to help the top two. The impact player here is PJ Davis. PJ has been making plays on the Flats for three years, and he will look to continue that going into his senior year. PJ took a slight step back last year statistically like the rest of the team, but I look for a major rebound from him to lead the defense.

I may be taking the easy way out on the player to watch, but that does not make it the wrong decision. Brant Mitchell will step into the starting role full time this year, and he showed enough flashes last year to make Tech fans feel like he is something special.

4. B-Back

A running theme so far in this countdown is the talent that Tech has available, but is that talent ready to step up? The B-Back position is in line with this thinking. The impact player of the group currently is Marcus Marshall. He showed the speed and elusiveness to be a homerun threat out of the backfield every time he touches the ball. If he can fix the ball handling issues and become a more effective pass blocker, it is his job to lose. The player to watch here was difficult to choose as there are a lot of names that are in play, but Dedrick Mills fits the bill best to me. Mills is a downhill bruiser of a runner and shows great vision with the ball in his hands. I loved what I saw out of him during the spring game. He could be a perfect complement to Marshall or even flip that script with the right start to fall.

3. Defensive Line

I almost placed this group higher on the list, but I am still in a bit of a wait and see approach. The depth and talent are both undeniable, but I need to see it happen. The impact player here is KeShun Freeman. He is a former freshman All-American that had a sophomore slump last season. Coach Mike Pelton has spoken positively about the gains Freeman has had in the offseason, and I expect a resurgence for his junior season. Freeman is the guy who will make our line go this year. Pat Gamble is a close second.

The one to watch is actually Freeman’s backup, Anree Saint-Amour. Anree’s ability to push Freeman and provide an additional threat of a pass rush will be the key to the season. I think a healthy competition will occur between the two, and that could pay major dividends for the defensive line this fall.

2. Quarterback

I flipped this pick multiple times before settling here due to the lack of proven depth. It almost ended up at the top because the most important player and best player on the team is leading the charge here. Justin Thomas is the man at GT, and he has already shown us a lot of what he can provide. As I covered last week, I fully expect Thomas to be at his 2014 form and giving the offense its edge back. The one to watch is actually the entire group behind him as I could not pick just one. The lack of a decisive number is two is what kept this group from being the best on the team. The talent is there though. I will be anxiously reading and watching the practice reports during camp and throughout the fall to see who starts to stake a claim on the position.

1. A-Back

This position was destroyed by injuries in 2015, but the depth that was built through the rough year places this group in the top spot going into 2016. There is a LOT of depth here. The impact player is the rising sophomore Qua Searcy. Qua had his 2015 campaign cut short, but he showed enough talent and promise to make Tech fans excited for what was to come. Qua is a supremely talented individual, and I look for him to be the guy at A-Back this fall. I selected two players to watch because both of them are great additions to the group. JJ Green, the Georgia transfer, is athletically gifted and could give Tech another dynamic threat out of the backfield. The other player is Nathan Cottrell. His speed and natural ability had coaches excited about the possibilities of him in the offense before the injury. If he heals up properly, Cottrell could be a big time player this fall.

This is my breakdown of the position rankings going into 2016. I am truly excited about each group going into the fall as there are guys at each position that can take Georgia Tech to the next level. What do your ranks look like for this year? Who are your players that could carry each position?

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @Rane_Martin what you would like to see in the defensive centric column for next week. Thanks again for reading!