ATHENS, Ga. -- Attempting to rank Georgia's recruiting classes is a highly subjective undertaking because of the numerous factors one must weigh.
Star power and on-field success are probably the two most important measuring sticks, but so are retention, need-filling and depth.
Taking all of those factors into account, we determined that Georgia's 2009 recruiting class was its best in the seven seasons since ESPN began assembling rankings. Some classes featured more ESPN 150 selections, and others are still cementing their legacies -- the 2011 and 2012 classes both could surpass the 2009 bunch before they're finished -- but the success the Aaron Murray-led 2009 class has achieved places it above the rest for now.
Let's look back through the years at our UGA class rankings, starting with the players who signed with the Bulldogs in 2009:
The strength of the 2009 class is not so much in its top-end talent -- there certainly were other classes that featured more stars -- but because of the impressive batting average for the overall group. Many of Georgia's classes have fallen victim to significant attrition, but 14 of the 20 players who made it to campus from the 2009 class have become valuable additions to the roster.
Murray, who has started at quarterback for the last three seasons and likely will own multiple SEC passing records by the end of 2013, was ESPN's highest-rated player in the class at No. 13 overall. But he was just one of 12 players in the class who started on the 2012 team that nearly played for a BCS championship.
Among the others: safety Shawn Williams, defensive end Abry Jones, receiver Marlon Brown, cornerback Branden Smith, nose guard Kwame Geathers, linebacker Michael Gilliard, tight end Arthur Lynch and offensive guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette. That doesn't include Orson Charles, who entered the 2012 NFL draft after a junior season in which he ranked among the nation's top tight ends.
Of note, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, arguably the top player of the Mark Richt era, was also a recruit in 2009. However, he initially signed with USC and didn't transfer to Georgia until 2010. We didn't include Jones in these rankings, because he signed with another program -- but if we had, that only would have cemented this class' spot as the best.
COMPARING THE CLASSES
Here's how Georgia fared each year since ESPN started its recruiting class rankings in 2006, compared to some of its other conference and regional competitors for top talent.
The "Dream Team" will have the opportunity to overtake the 2009 recruits in the next few years. This group certainly helped the Bulldogs bounce back from the worst season under Richt (a 6-7 campaign in 2010) by sparking back-to-back SEC East title runs in 2011 and 2012.
The top-end talent in this class was phenomenal, with John Jenkins manning the middle of the defensive line during the last two seasons and receiver Malcolm Mitchell, cornerback Damian Swann, linebacker Amarlo Herrera and center David Andrews already playing key roles. Of course, the headliner of the class was No. 4 overall recruit Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed from the team last summer after earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
Crowell's departure furthered attrition that might damage the group's reputation in the long run. Already, six of the 26 Dream Teamers have either transferred, been kicked off the team or never qualified.
This is the "what-if" class from the years in which ESPN compiled team rankings, because of its unrealized potential. The 2007 season, when quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno starred on a team that finished second nationally, seemed like a sign of great things to come. And yet it turned out to be the final bright spot before a downturn that took several years to reverse.
Of the 28 players in this class, 11 contributed very little or not at all. The star power was immense -- aside from Stafford and Moreno, safety Reshad Jones, cornerback Asher Allen, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and linebacker Akeem Dent all had productive careers -- but despite 12 ESPN 150 honorees in this class, it's the only one that didn't win a division title.
This is another class that featured phenomenal talent -- receiver A.J. Green might have been the most explosive player of the Richt era -- but the success rate was not particularly high. Twelve of the 24 signees failed to contribute much of anything, including some of the highest-rated players in the class.
That's not to call the class a failure. Green was a superstar, and a number of big-time contributors arrived in 2008 -- a group that includes receiver Tavarres King, center Ben Jones, offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Brandon Boykin, defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson, kicker Blair Walsh and linebacker Christian Robinson.
Like 2011, this class ultimately could become the best of this bunch, but it's far too early to predict what will happen with players who have been on campus for less than a year in most cases. They're certainly off to a good start, however, playing on a team that won a second straight SEC East title and nearly made it to the national championship game.
Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and offensive tackle John Theus are the headliners thus far, but there are a number of up-and-comers in this bunch including safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, nose guard Jonathan Taylor and cornerback Sheldon Dawson.
At 13th, the 2007 class ranked the lowest out of the seven on ESPN's team rankings and it turned out to be a stinker. Of the 13 highest-rated players in the class, only tight end Aron White and receiver Israel Troupe made it to their senior seasons, and only linebackers Rennie Curran and Justin Houston reached what one could call stardom.
Georgia's success rate is high in three of the last four years, with this class serving as the glaring exception.
Headliner Alec Ogletree became a star at linebacker, but he and defensive end Garrison Smith are the only two out of the six ESPN 150 honorees in this class who have become key contributors. And the rest of the class hasn't fared much better, with receiver Michael Bennett and offensive lineman Kenarious Gates ranking as the only players who have accomplished much of anything thus far.