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Curtis Compton/AJC
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was introduced to Roquan Smith on Sept. 23 in Athens.

Many contenders for MVP on Georgia’s roster, but one stands above others

ATHENS – A lot of players have had to come through for Georgia to get to 9-0 for the first time in 35 years and reach the No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff rankings. But who would you say is the most valuable player of this 2017 team so far?

It’s an easy call for me. Still, there are a lot of Bulldogs who could put up a good argument. Such as:

  • Nick Chubb. The senior tailback is not having the kind of dominating individual season we all know he’s capable of, but that’s mainly because he doesn’t have to. The Bulldogs have the luxury of distributing the load in their backfield and have been taking full advantage of it. Chubb was Georgia’s leading rusher against South Carolina with 102 yards Saturday, making it the fourth consecutive game the Bulldogs have had a different leading rusher from one week to the next. Still, Chubb’s 20 carries were a season high for any back, and he has 50 more attempts than the No. 2 rusher. He not only leads Georgia with 867 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he also leads the SEC with 96.3 yards per game. Chubb is also a consummate locker room leader.
  • Sony Michel. Like his roommate, Chubb, Michel easily could carry a heavier load than he has. He leads all UGA running backs with a 7.9 yards-per-carry average and is tied with Chubb for the team lead with 9 TDs. That’s while getting 50 fewer carries than Chubb. Michel is also strong in the locker room and has become a team spokesman for the offense. Opposing defensive coordinators would probably tell you he’s Georgia’s most dynamic offensive playmaker. NFL scouts love him.
  • Terry Godwin. Talk about coming through! There were some questions about whether Godwin could fill the role as Georgia’s primary receiver this season. He has done that and then some, even while having to play with an assortment of injuries. He leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards (422), yards per catch (22.2) and touchdown catches (5), while also providing his team with stability and dependability in the returns game.
  • Isaiah Wynn. Or really any one of those Georgia linemen. To me, the offensive line was by far the area of greatest concern for the Bulldogs entering the season, with new starters at all five positions. But Wynn’s the senior leader of that group, and he was making the biggest move, from left guard to protecting the quarterback’s blindside at left tackle. Georgia has given up only 9 sacks in nine games, and Wynn is a big reason for that. But the Bulldogs also haven’t had to throw the ball a lot this season. That will be a matchup worth watching Saturday at Auburn.
  • Jake Fromm: As far as I know, the Las Vegas books don’t put a number on which players might end up being MVP on their own team, but can you imagine the odds Fromm would’ve been getting at the outset of the season? Lest we forget, the freshman quarterback from Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Ga., wasn’t even the starter when the season started. Nine games in, he’s perhaps the biggest reason Georgia has gone from 11th in the SEC in total offense and scoring to second this season. The most amazing part is Fromm continues to make a mockery of the game manager label that has been put on him. After his 196-yard, 2-touchdown performance on Saturday against the Gamecocks, he’s now third in the nation in pass efficiency. It’s unfair to say Jacob Eason would not be having the same success had he not gotten hurt in the first game, but it is fair to wonder where the Bulldogs would be without Fromm.
  • Lorenzo Carter: When it’s all said and done, Carter could be the first Bulldogs player off the board in the NFL draft next spring. Scouts love his size, speed and versatility, and he has come a thousand miles this season in terms of being a leader for Georgia, both on the field and in the locker room. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound outside linebacker from Norcross, Ga., continues to get dogged by his number of sacks. But he leads the team with 4 so far while being asked to do so much more. Pay attention when the Bulldogs are on defense to how many times Carter finds himself way outside in the flat, often lining up over a receiver or slotback. He came to Georgia as a 5-star prospect and he’s a 5-star on Georgia’s defense.

Safety Dominique Sanders, linebacker Davin Bellamy, noseguard John Atkins and tackle Trent Thompson all are deserving of any accolades they get this season, and each one is important to this team.

But the one player Georgia absolutely could not be without at this point is Roquan Smith.

The junior linebacker from tiny Montezuma in Macon County has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Bulldogs’ Savage Junkyard Dawg defense and a big reason the Bulldogs are ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (254.1 yards per game) and third in scoring (11.7 points per game). Smith combines the speed of a defensive back with the size and strength needed to mix up with linemen and backs inside the tackles. Smith has used those traits to lead the team in tackles (70) and tackles per game (7.8). He has also recorded 2½ sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 9 quarterback pressures and 2 passes batted down.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has utilized Smith to the fullest this season. With the Bulldogs’ formidable front commanding all of the attention of the opposing offensive lines, Smith is left to roam free from his Will linebacker spot in the middle of the field. Depending on the type of offensive team Georgia is facing, Tucker has Smith spy on dual-threat quarterbacks, such as Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush, or multitalented backs, such as Tennessee’s John Kelly. None of them have had much success.

Even when Smith is not actually getting in on a play, his speed and presence on the field make a difference. Perhaps his most effective tool has been his sideline-to-sideline speed, which often turns an opponent’s perimeter play inside to the Bulldogs’ pursuit. There really has been no getting away from Smith all year.

Quiet-spoken by nature, Smith has matured considerably this season when it comes to being a team leader. He’s one of only a couple of juniors on the Bulldogs’ leadership committee.

At 6-1 and 225 pounds, there is reason to believe Smith might’ve made a pretty good tailback. In any case, he’s an inside linebacker for the Bulldogs, and he might well be a once-in-a-generation player at that position. One would be well-advised to get a close look at him while he’s still wearing red and black. Based on the number of inquiries I’m hearing about Smith, his next stop after this season likely will be the NFL.

That’s why Smith is the most valuable player on the Bulldogs’ roster this season. But that’s just my take on it. What’s yours?