Last week saw ESPN release its post-spring overreactions for college football, and Georgia was one of the programs mentioned. The outlet used Georgia’s record 15 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft as a reason to wonder whether the Dawgs have lost too much talent to return to the College Football Playoff this season.
Georgia ended a 41-year drought without a national championship this past season, and if you watched last week’s NFL draft, it’s easy to understand why.
The Bulldogs had 15 players selected in the draft, the most by any team during the current seven-round format, which started in 1994. Georgia set another record when it had five defensive players selected in the first round, including No. 1 pick Travon Walker.
So, with so many players leaving for the NFL, the Bulldogs have to slide pretty far back, right? Probably not. While they’ll have to reload much of the front seven on defense, the Bulldogs have plenty of talent returning to win the SEC East again.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett IV should be better after getting a full offseason and preseason camp working as the No. 1 quarterback. He had limited reps in practice before replacing JT Daniels last season. There are areas to improve, even for a 24-year-old who is about to play his fifth season at Georgia.
“Make better decisions,” Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said of his QB this spring. “We were late over the middle a couple of times with balls and late in the season. He would be the first to tell you he didn’t play perfect. He made some really good plays for us with his feet, with his legs, with his decision-making, but you just wanna take out some of the bone-head throws, some of the bone-head mistakes that he has made from time to time.
“It’s easy for him to say he didn’t have the chance to correct those mistakes because the guy was taking [third-team reps] at this time last year. He wasn’t getting a lot of reps, he got a lot of work fast and we still feel like he is still showing progress.”
Georgia will bring back All-American tight end Brock Bowers and added former LSU transfer Arik Gilbert, who looked good in spring action starting at receiver before moving back to tight end. Offensive tackle Broderick Jones could be a potential first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft.
Georgia might have at least three more first-rounders on defense: tackle Jalen Carter, outside linebacker Nolan Smith and cornerback Kelee Ringo.
“They might have three or four NFL players on defense next season, instead of five or six,” one SEC head coach said. “They’ve still got more than almost everyone else.”
The Bulldogs might not be as dominant as they were in 2021, when they went unbeaten in the regular season and defeated Alabama 33-18 in the CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T. But they don’t play Alabama or Texas A&M in the regular season; road games at South Carolina, Mississippi State and Kentucky might be their biggest challenges.
It would be a big surprise if Georgia isn’t back in the SEC championship game.
Georgia heads into summer as the reigning champions and the expectation is that the program will make a big push to defend that title this fall. The Bulldogs rank No. 3 in ESPN’s way-too-early rankings and it’s due in large part to the talent returning on the offensive side of the ball. Stetson Bennett was one of the most efficient passers in college football and saved his best football for when it mattered most at the end of the season. Warren McClendon, broderick jones, Warren Ericsonand Sedrick Van Pran all return on the offensive line, freshman tight end Brock Bowers might be the most talented pass-catcher in college football, and fellow freshmen Adonai Mitchell and Ladd McConkey took turns making clutch catches at wide receiver throughout the season. The loss of Jermaine Burton to transfer and george pickens to the draft could be mitigated by the untapped potential of oft-injured speedster Arian Smithwith Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Dominick Blaylockand Arik Gilbert also potential breakout players.
Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, Robert Beal will lead a talented but inexperienced defensive front seven and Kelee Ringo, William Poole III, Chris Smithand Tykee Smith give the Dawgs a confident secondary group that has been battle-tested. The 29 incoming freshmen, considered the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class, is likely to make an impact on defense just like Bowers, Mitchell, and McConkey did during the championship run.