Georgia’s most important players of 2015: And now for No. 9 …

Georgia's Isaiah McKenzie returned two punts for touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. (Photo by Sean Taylor)"

Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie returned two punts for touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. (Photo by Sean Taylor)”

For the uninitiated: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s best players. Nope, it certainly is not. Rather, this is an evaluation of which players are most vital to the team’s success this season based on their own talent, the importance of their position, the depth at certain positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

No. 12 was freshman receiver Terry Godwin.

No. 11 was senior kicker Marshall Morgan.

No. 10 was the inside linebacker combo of juniors Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough.

And now we move along to …



Receiver-kick returner

WHY HE’S VITAL: First, McKenzie’s impact on special teams: Last year when I did this list McKenzie was No. 12, and to some that was a reach. In retrospect I was under-valuing him. Georgia needed a dynamic presence on special teams, and McKenzie provided it. The year before his arrival Georgia ranked 108th nationally in kick return yardage, 122nd in punt return yardage, hadn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since the 2012 season opener, and hadn’t done so with a punt since the final game of the previous season. Last year, McKenzie returned two punts for touchdowns and one kickoff. (Todd Gurley also had one.) Georgia finished 24th nationally in punt return yardage, and 37th in kick returns. So as a return man, all McKenzie needs to do is keep it up. When it comes to receiving, there’s definite upside, as was evidenced in the spring game, when he hauled in a mid-range pass and sprinted to the end zone. He hurt his hamstring on the play and was out the rest of the spring, but whatever. Georgia obviously needs receiving weapons, as mentioned in the Godwin post, and McKenzie is one of the most dynamic options. He doesn’t solve the need for a good downfield blocker or perhaps even the tough catch. But he can really stretch the field.

QUOTABLE: “Isaiah McKenzie is a guy that I’m really high on. I’m probably an old soul, but work ethic: You watch this guy practice, (and) he practices at a different tempo than most of the guys. It’s fun to watch.” – Brian Schottenheimer.

Isaiah McKenzie

Isaiah McKenzie

BEST CASE: On special teams, a repeat of last year, with perhaps even more. On offense, a heavy involvement, with Schottenheimer finding ways to get McKenzie the ball in space, something Mike Bobo never did much last year, perhaps because McKenzie wasn’t ready for it. McKenzie doesn’t need to catch 40 passes, which Chris Conley and Michael Bennett averaged, but something in the area of 25-30 catches, 500 yards and 10 touchdowns would be a very good year. He could also get involved in the running game, if Schottenheimer can incorporate that kind of package for McKenzie.

WORST CASE: McKenzie can’t replicate last year’s special teams numbers. He stumbles on offense, unable to pick up Schottenheimer’s schemes, and doesn’t develop the confidence of the quarterbacks. He’s still only 5-foot-7, and for another season that proves an obstacle for his offensive emergence.

FINAL WORD: This spring, whenever a coach or player was asked which non-Malcolm Mitchell receivers were impressing, McKenzie came up the most. That won’t automatically translate to when the games count, but it was a good sign. It’s not the most important thing for Georgia’s offense this year. But just like last year, when McKenzie injected life into the return game, this year he has the potential to make Georgia’s offense to be a lot more than just hand-the-ball-to-Chubb.

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