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041622 Athens: Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) greets Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during the G - Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ESPN analyst ranks Georgia football No. 2 in future defensive rankings, even after record-breaking NFL draft

Georgia’s 2021 defense was a unit for the ages. Between holding opposing teams to just 10.2 points per game or the five defenders taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, it was a group that won’t easily be replicated.

Yet even with all that Georgia lost from last season, the Bulldogs are still well-positioned on the defensive side of the ball going forward.

Related: Kirby Smart on 2022 Georgia football defense: ‘We just want to be No. 1 in the country’

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg slotted Georgia No. 2 in his future defensive power rankings. It’s the same spot Georgia occupied in Rittenberg’s rankings a year ago.

“The Bulldogs return several standouts, including tackle Jalen Carter, cornerback Kelee Ringo, safety Christopher Smith and linebacker Nolan Smith,” Rittenberg wrote. “Combined with excellent recruiting and a group waiting its turn for playing time, Georgia should be excellent on defense through 2024.”

Only Clemson ranks above Georgia, as was the same case a year ago. The two teams met to open the 2021 season and put on a defensive clinic, as both opposing offenses were smothered. Georgia came away with a 10-3 win, with Chris Smith scoring the only touchdown of the game.

What’s interesting to note is that Georgia and Clemson will both have new defensive coordinators this season. Brent Venables is now the head coach at Oklahoma while Dan Lanning is the head coach at Oregon. Both schools promoted from within, as Wes Goodwin is now running the show in Clemson while Glenn Schaumann and Will Muschamp are co-defensive coordinators.

One thing to watch going forward is that after Venables departed Clemson, the Tigers took a noticeable hit on the recruiting front. Clemson saw three top-100 defensive players all de-commit from the program. The Tigers finished No. 14 in the 2022 recruiting rankings, compared to Georgia at No. 3. One of those de-commitments was 5-star Daylen Everette, who ended up signing with Georgia.

“The thing about Daylen Everette, we learned in the spring he can tackle you. He’s not afraid of contact,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the spring game. “He’s going to be a good football player. We’ve got to get better in the secondary to go where we’re going to go, and we’ve got some guys coming, but we’ve got to get the guys that are here to go to here, and that’s our job as coaches.”

Georgia signed five 5-star defensive players in this past cycle and eight top-100 overall prospects on the defensive side of the ball. It’s one of the great defensive signing classes in recent memory.

As far as concerns about Georgia’s defense this coming season, the Bulldogs have questions about the experience at the linebacker position and once again face concerns about depth in the secondary. There is talent in both groups, with Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Trezmen Marshall and Jalon Walker all playing well during the spring game, but all the losses to the NFL will test a younger defense this season.

Among other SEC programs in Rittenberg’s rankings, Texas A&M moved up to No. 3, Alabama fell to No. 4, LSU was No. 9. Georgia’s week 1 opponent, Oregon, came in at No. 14. But the Ducks likely won’t be that low for long with Lanning now running the program.

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