ATHENS — The Georgia football team should find out Monday whether its best player will return for another season. And that’s not the only unknown for the Bulldogs entering the deadline to declare for the NFL draft.
Roquan Smith, a consensus All-America inside linebacker, is widely projected as a first-round pick if he declares for the draft. But the junior from Montezuma, Ga., has been torn about his decision, according to multiple sources inside and outside the program.
If Smith were projected as a second-round pick or lower, he probably already would have announced he was returning for his senior year. The team captain is described by people as happy at UGA and eager to get his degree.
But after a monster junior season, during which he won the Butkus Award and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year by the AP and coaches, Smith’s stock has risen considerably. He led Georgia with 6.5 sacks and 137 tackles, and he was integral in Georgia’s near-national championship run: Smith had 13 tackles, including 9 solo, in the title game loss to Alabama and 11 tackles in the Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma.
If Smith returns, it would be a huge lift to a Georgia defense that at minimum will lose six senior starters, as well as at least one standout junior.
Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson declared for the draft Friday. The junior from Albany, Ga., battled through injuries this season after a strong finish to his sophomore season. The nation’s top high school prospect in 2015, Thompson isn’t projected yet as a first-round pick, but he could push into discussion for the higher rounds based on his blend of size and speed.
The deadline to declare is Monday, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the public will find out. The NFL is scheduled to notify teams of the underclassmen who declare Thursday, at which point the full list is released.
Three juniors, in addition to Smith, also are mulling making the jump to the NFL.
Cornerback Deandre Baker, who had a strong junior season, said before the Rose Bowl that he would seek “accurate” information about his draft projections after the season.
Center Lamont Gaillard said before the National Championship Game that he wasn’t really sure if he would return for his senior season. A fourth-year junior, Gaillard started every game at center in the 2017 season after starting every game at right guard in 2016.
Finally, receiver Terry Godwin also could be a candidate to explore the draft. Godwin (5-foot-11 and 185 pounds) finished this season with 38 catches for 639 yards, making him the team’s second-leading receiver for the third straight season.
Safety J.R. Reed, a redshirt sophomore, and defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, a junior, both said before the Rose Bowl that they intend to return for another season.