Georgia Tech is flush with high upside talent at corner. There are three former four star recruits in the group, which is more than any other position on the GT roster, and that doesn’t include the leader at the position, Tre Swilling. There’s great potential for this group to help lead the way to significant improvement in Georgia Tech’s 2021 pass defense.
In 2020, the GT defense allowed a 46% success rate against the pass, 0.11 EPA/pass play, and a completion percentage that was 1% lower than expected. The relative lack of pressure from up front continues to hurt, but GT’s back end guys allowed too many long pass plays. Fortunately, the combination of returning experience and young talent points towards an improvement this fall.
Note: ATL? means “Will they be above the line this season?
Note 2: We’re including nickel/dime guys in this position preview
Kaleb Oliver - A starter for parts of 2 years at the nickel position, Oliver chose to enter the transfer portal this spring and is not yet committed anywhere. Although a good run defender, he never took the needed steps forward in pass defense and got passed up by Wesley Walker on the depth chart.
Jaytlin Askew - A four year player who made most of his contributions on special teams, Askew chose not to use his extra year of eligibility and signed an undrafted rookie deal with the Miami Dolphins. He attended their first rookie mini camp in May and hopes to battle for a roster spot during training camp.
Tre Swilling - 6-0, 205 lbs., RS Jr. | 2020: 20 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 PD, 2 FR
Tre battled injuries and COVID protocols last year, appearing in only 6 games and starting in 5. PFF graded him in the mid 60s when he was able to play, which was a significant step down from his 2019 performance. Expect a bounce back year from Tre. During the spring, there was talk of him moving to nickel, but he played mostly outside during the spring game; I expect him to start at one of the outside corner spots and to cement himself as the leader of his group.
Zamari Walton - 6-3, 187 lbs., RS So. | 2020: 37 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 7 PD, 1 FR
Walton was GT’s most productive corner last year. He started all ten games and earned the unit’s highest PFF grade at 68. He can be a boom or bust player, as he got burned on deep balls but also used his length to lead the team in passed defended and broken up. If he can eliminate some of the breakdowns, he could be an excellent piece in the secondary this fall.
Tobias Oliver - 6-2, 197 lbs., RS Jr. | 2020: 10 tackles
The former quarterback made his move to the defensive backfield last fall, and he held his own. Appearing in 9 games as a backup, Oliver flashed his athleticism even while lacking the technical skill of some of the other guys at the position group. I expect that his primary contributions this season will be on special teams.
Wesley Walker - 6-1, 202 lbs., RS Fr. | 2020: 48 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 PBU, 4 PD, 1 QBH
Walker took over the starting nickel spot from Kaleb Oliver during the second half of 2020. He made disruptive plays in pass coverage that had been missing from this spot on the defense. A freshman, Walker still struggled with some blown coverages, but his upside made it well worth giving him 5 starts, and he looks poised to breakout this fall. PFF graded his performance slightly higher than Tre Swilling’s last season.
Myles Sims - 6-3, 185 lbs., RS So. | 2020: 15 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 PD
Sims’s 2020 season confused me. He started at the beginning of the year while Tre Swilling missed time. PFF had him as the third highest graded corner in the country after week 1, and he was still GT’s second highest graded corner when he fell behind on the depth chart and no longer saw enough snaps to qualify in the rankings. Perhaps there was an undisclosed injury; otherwise I’m not sure why his playing time fell off so sharply. This is a deep position, but Sims needs to figure heavily in the 2021 rotation.
Miles Brooks - 6-2, 190 lbs., Fr. | 2020: 1 tackle
The four star recruit out of Jacksonville appeared in spot duty in 4 games during his true freshman season. He’s a strong prospect who flashed during the spring game with one outstanding PBU. I expect him to break into the rotation this fall, perhaps getting some outside duty when Swilling moves inside.
Jalen Huff - 5-11, 188 lbs., Fr. | 2020: no recorded stats
The 2020 commit out of Buford HS appeared in the final two games of the season as GT worked to get younger guys reps. He’s a promising young player, who flipped to GT from Oklahoma. There’s simply not enough room on the depth chart for him to make a big impact this season, but look out for Huff in 2022 and beyond.
Jordan Huff - 6-2, 194 lbs., RS Fr. | 2020: 1 tackle, 1 QBH
Similarly, Jalen’s cousin Jordan got some spot duty towards the end of season, appearing in 4 games just as he had during his redshirt season in 2019. He’s solid but hasn’t shown enough to move ahead of the older guys who are above him on the depth chart.
Kenan Johnson - 6-1, 185 lbs., RS fr. | 2020: 13 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 PD
Johnson played more than most of the other young guys last season, appearing in 9 games and starting in 3. PFF rated him as GT’s lowest graded corner, and his playing time dipped towards the end of the year. I expect Brooks, Sims, and Walker to soak up the snaps that Johnson was getting earlier in 2020.
Kenyatta Watson II - 6-1, 190 lbs., RS Fr. | 2020: 3 tackles, 1 PD
The Texas transfer made his pledge to GT midway through the 2020 season, electing to come back home after graduating from Grayson HS. He appeared in 4 games during a 2019 redshirt season and saw action in Texas’s season opener before deciding that he wanted to pursue opportunities elsewhere. He’s a physical corner who should allow Coach Thacker more press opportunities in coverage. He’s unproven at the college level, but his talent upside is exciting and should earn him significant 2021 reps.
We’re projecting six guys - Swilling, Walton, Walker, Sims, Books, and Watson - to be the primary contributors at outside corner and in the nickel/dime packages that Coach Thacker will use often. That is a strong group, and GT’s passing defense should reflect that this fall as long as the front can provide some more disruption and the safeties Thomas and Carpenter play closer to their 2019 form. There’s a lot of potential here.