Stetson Bennett IV-Georgia football-UGA football
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV led the Bulldogs to the national championship on January 10, 2022, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Kirby Smart’s big challenge: Georgia football 13th in SEC in returning production

ATHENS — All signs pointed to Georgia football winning the 2021 national championship with the Bulldogs ranking among the most experienced and talented teams in the nation.

No doubt, UGA has a program-record 14 players headed to the NFL combine (March 1-6) and will most certainly set a program record for most players selected in an NFL draft this year (more than nine).

The historical and dominant 2021 season came with a tradeoff: a major reload on defense for the 2022 season and an offense that will surely need to do more.

RELATED: The most indispensable Georgia players in 2021 and looking ahead to 2022

Georgia ranks 96th out of 131 teams in overall production returning (59 percent) and 13th of the 14 SEC teams.

Only Ole Miss, per a recent ESPN paysite article, has less production returning.

The good news is that the Bulldogs’ offense, with 24-year-old QB Stetson Bennett returning -- along with All-American and FWAA Freshman of the Year tight end Brock Bowers -- has the third-most returning production in the SEC.

RELATED: Georgia football offense expected to funnel through Stetson Bennett again in 2022

Bennett is the SEC’s second-highest-rated passer returning (176.69) behind Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (181.41).

Georgia has 73 percent of its offensive production coming back, a mark bettered only by South Carolina (82 percent) and Tennessee (80 percent).

Defensively, however, the cupboard is relatively bare compared with other SEC programs.

Georgia ranks 122nd in the nation and last in the SEC in returning defensive production (44 percent).

Nolan Smith, with 56 stops, is the team’s leading returning tackler.

Of course, that’s not counting Tykee Smith, a 2021 All-American transfer from West Virginia who missed almost all of last season on account of injuries.

Also worth noting, Kirby Smart has not yet made a move into the NCAA transfer portal, likely waiting to see how things pan out in spring drills.

Here’s a look at the teams returning the most production in the SEC:

• Mississippi State, 78 percent

• Tennessee, 74 percent

• South Carolina, 73 percent

• Vanderbilt, 69 percent

• Florida, 65 percent

• Kentucky, 65 percent

• Alabama, 65 percent

RELATED: Ranking the opponents on the Georgia football 2022 schedule

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