ATHENS — Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean might have been having some virtual rehabilitation flashbacks as UGA replayed the Notre Dame game on Saturday as part of its “Virtual G-Day.”
Fact is, Dean served notice in the actual 2019 G-Day Game as an early enrollee that he was a virtual lock to contribute as a true freshman with five tackles and a pass break-up.
But the 2018 Gatorade Mississippi High School Player of the Year and Mississippi “Mr. Football” winner was limited through the first half of last season, Notre Dame game included, by a high ankle sprain.
Once healthy, Dean looked every bit the part of 5-star recruit and future All-SEC linebacker, and he’s projected to have a monster sophomore campaign by most every metric and projection.
A recent ESPN pay site article included Pro Football Focus metrics that displayed just how effective Dean was during his snaps at linebacker last season.
“Dean allowed only five catches (on 14 targets) for 28 yards on 149 coverage snaps and even managed to mix in a couple of pass breakups,” the article states. “Dean most certainly will have a larger role within Georgia’s defense in 2020, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ends up being one of college football’s best off-ball linebackers by season’s end.”
ESPN states Dean is a “sleeper” among candidates for top “off-ball linebackers”
Some might suggest Dean already is among the best.
The former Horn Lake, Miss., star was named co-winner of Georgia’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award, splitting the honor with defensive lineman Travon Walker.
Dean, projected to start next to Monty Rice next season, told DawgNation leading up to the Sugar Bowl he had big visions for that game as well as the 2020 campaign.
“I do plan on in the future being more of a vocal leader,” Dean said, “and also leading by example.”
As hard as last season’s injury was on Dean physically, it was even more challenging to his psyche.
“It messed with me more so mentally, than physically,” Dean said last December in Atlanta. “I had to get my mind right and learn to sit out, but still learn without actually being out there. That was one thing that hindered me.”
Once healthy, Dean proved himself among the top defenders on a Georgia unit that would lead the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense, while finishing third in total defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense.
Dean had six tackles and a forced fumble in a 21-0 win over Kentucky.
That performance along with several others led to Dean being selected as one of the top 6 linebackers of the Kirby Smart Era in a DawgNation draft last Thursday.
Nakobe Dean SEC Championship Game