Georgia football defense-sports illustrated
Nolan Smith is expected to have a big season for the Georgia football defense.

Sports Illustrated has high expectations for 3 members of Georgia’s 2019 defense

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been regarded as one of the top defensive minds in all of college football. Factor in his excellent recruiting resume and Georgia is always going to have some very talented players on the defensive side of the ball every year.

For the 2019 season, the Bulldogs once again figure to have a very good defense. And it will be led by not just some of the top players in the SEC, but in all of college football. Sports Illustrated began releasing its list of the top-100 players in college football on Tuesday, ranking players 100 through 51.

Two Bulldogs fell in that range, as Sports Illustrated ranked senior safety J.R. Reed as the No. 93 player in the country. Junior inside linebacker Monty Rice came in at No. 66. On Monday, Sports Illustrated released a list of players to just miss the top-100 mark, and freshman outside linebacker Nolan Smith was included in that group.

Reed returns for his senior season after starting for the last two seasons at safety. He finished 2018 with 66 tackles and 2 interceptions. Sports Illustrated added that Reed will help offset the loss of cornerback Deandre Baker.

Reed’s decision to return for his senior year helps keep the secondary strength of the Bulldogs’ defense after the departure of top corner Deandre Baker, a first-round pick by the Giants. Reed was the team’s leading tackler in the SEC championship game loss to Alabama, during which he also picked off Tua Tagovailoa in the red zone.

When Rice was able to be on the field in 2018, he proved to be a valuable player for Georgia. Before going down with a foot injury prior to the UMass game, he was the team’s leading tacklers. The advanced analytics also show he’s one of the surest-tacklers in the conference.

Despite missing five games due to injury, Rice produced 59 tackles for the Bulldogs, good for third-best on the team. Rice led the SEC with a 3.0% missed tackle percentage, making him an incredibly valuable asset on defense. Rice is a likely starter in a linebacker unit that should be one of the league’s strongest.

As for Smith, he was one of only two freshmen mentioned by Sports Illustrated, with the other being LSU cornerback Derrick Stingley Jr. Smith was the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2019 recruiting cycle and made a strong first impression this spring.

“Nolan plays hard all the time,” Smart said. “He doesn’t always play smart but he plays with great effort and does a good job.”

Smith will have a chance to carve out a major role for the Bulldogs this year due in large part to the lack of proven pass rushers. No player on Georgia’s roster had more than 2.0 sacks last season, and 2018 sack leader D’Andre Walker is now in the NFL.

Related: The national media is making a big mistake by sleeping on Nolan Smith

Reed, Rice and Smith won’t be the only three players mentioned in the list. The likes of quarterback Jake Fromm, running back D’Andre Swift and offensive tackle Andrew Thomas will all likely be included higher up on the list.

Some of the players who landed between 100 and 51 that Georgia will see in 2019 include Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (No. 84), Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pickney (No. 73) and Auburn linebacker Marlon Davidson (No. 58). Former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields was ranked as the No. 87 player by Sports Illustrated.

Related: The 10 best players Georgia football will play against in 2019

Georgia’s 2019 season gets underway on Aug. 31 when the Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff and can be seen on the SEC Network.

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