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Georgia junior Jordan Davis is not ranked among the Top 10 interior defensive linemen by Mel Kiper Jr., leaving the door open he could return to play for the Bulldogs next season.
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Kirby Smart talks retention, Mel Kiper lists Bulldogs among top 10 at positions

ATHENS —  The Wednesday early signing day was and is one of the most important moments of the year, representing the future foundation and decidedly upward trend of the No. 8-ranked Georgia football program.

But the Bulldogs’ retention — particularly on defense — will play a bigger role in the program’s 2021 title hopes.

RELATED: Signing day breakdown, where Georgia scored, missed and what’s ahead

The offense appears set with JT Daniels leaning toward returning with a receiver arsenal of George Pickens, Dominick Blaylock, Jermaine Burton and Darnell Washington.

The possibility of ultimately adding LSU opt-out Arik Gilbert would provide UGA with the ultimate in pass catchers. And that’s not even considering the proven ability of James Cook and Kenny McIntosh to catch passes out of the backfield.

Defense is where there are questions, with junior cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell expected to turn pro, and departing seniors DJ Daniel (cornerback) Richard LeCounte (safety), Monty Rice (linebacker) and Malik Herring (defensive line).

Could senior defensive tackles Julian Rochester and Devonte Wyatt be back for another season?

Junior nosetackle Jordan Davis would be absolutely pivotal, as would redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojualri.

Coach Kirby Smart once talked about how the standard to go pro at Alabama was the top half of the first round. The Tide players realized going earlier in the draft led to a greater likelihood of a second contract, which is where the biggest money is made because of the league’s pay structure.

For the record, none of the 2020 Georgia players rank on the newly released Top 25 “Big Board” put out by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

It is worth noting current Alabama players like Najee Harris and Alex Leatherwood returned for a senior season and the bigger, better deals. Another SEC Championship and a national title run appear to be nice bonuses, too.

C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower and Ryan Kelly are other Tide stars who previously came back for added seasons after being draft-eligible players who would have been selected in the first three rounds.

Smart leaves it up to his players, completely, and has gone so far as to support players sitting out bowl games if they aren’t willing to compete.

“I feel like if you do a good job with your culture throughout the time you are here, and you educate them well on it, they have to have a reason to want to leave and go,” Smart said. “Maybe that is financial for their family, but long-term financially we educate them.

“The best value they can get is to go as high as possible in the draft which ensures longevity in the NFL. That’s the ultimate factor—how long can you stay up there. You can stay up there longer the higher you are picked.”

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper released his first “Big Board” and it revealed there should be plenty of Bulldogs’ players considering returning for another season.

Because of COVID, everyone is eligible to return because the 2020 campaign did not count against anyone’s eligibility clock.

Here’s the sparse collection of Georgia players ranked who ranked in the Top 10 of different position groups in the ESPN paysite article:

No. 6 Center: Trey Hill

No. 10 Offensive guard: Ben Cleveland

No. 9 Inside linebacker: Monty Rice

No. 3 Outside linebacker: Azeez Ojulari

No. 9 Cornerback: Eric Stokes

No. 6 Safety: Richard LeCounte

Unofficial scholarship players remaining

Defensive line (11)

RS Senior Julian Rochester

Senior Devonte Wyatt

Junior Jordan Davis

RS Sophomore Tramel Walthour

Sophomore Travon walker

RS Freshman Tymon Mitchell

RS Freshman Bill Norton

RS Freshman Zion Logue

Freshman Jalen Carter

Freshman Warren Brinson

Freshman Nazir Stackhouse

Outside linebacker (5)

Junior Robert Beal

Junior Adam Anderson

RS Sophomore Azeez Ojulari

Sophomore Nolan Smith

Freshman Mekhail Sherman

Interior linebacker (6)

Senior Nate McBride

Junior Channing Tindall

Junior Quay Walker

Sophomore Nakobe Dean

Sophomore Trezman Marshall

RS Freshman Rian Davis

Safeties (6)

RS Junior William Poole

RS Junior Latavious Brini

Junior Christopher Smith

Sophomore Tyrique Stevenson

Sophomore Lewis Cine

Freshman Major Burns

Cornerbacks (4)

RS Junior Ameer Speed

Freshman Jalen Kimber

Freshman Kelee Ringo

Freshman Daran Branch

Special teams (2)

Punter (1)

Junior Jake Camara

Kicker (1)

Freshman Jared Zirkel

Offensive line (13)

Junior Jamaree Salyer

RS Sophomore Owen Condon

RS Sophomore Warren Ericson

RS Freshman Xavier Truss

RS Freshman Warren McClendon

RS Freshman Clay Webb

Freshman Broderick Jones

Freshman Tate Rutledge

Freshman Chad Lindberg

Freshman Austin Blaske

Freshman Devon Willock

Freshman Sedrick Van Pran

Freshman Cameron Kinnie

Quarterbacks (3)

RS Junior Stetson Bennett

RS Sophomore JT Daniels

Freshman Carson Beck

Receivers (9)

RS Junior Matt Landers

RS Sophomore Kearis Jackson

Sophomore George Pickens

Sophomore Dominick Blaylock

Freshman Marcus Rosemy

Freshman Jermaine Burton

Freshman Arian Smith

Freshman Justin Robinson

Freshman Ladd McConkey

Running backs (4)

Junior James Cook

sophomore Kenny McIntosh

Freshman Kendall Milton

Freshman Daijun Edwards

Tight ends (4)

RS Sophomore John FitzPatrick

RS Freshman Ryland Goede

RS Freshman Brett Seither

Freshman Darnell Washington