(11) LSU
7
1st QTR
00:00
14
(1) Georgia
Georgia football-defensive line-talent
Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) during the Bulldogs’ game with Kentucky in Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

Georgia football: Jalen Carter leads Top 5 most valuable returning players on offense, defense

ATHENS — Georgia football’s landmark achievements will soon shift from the Bulldogs’ 33-18 CFP Championship win over Alabama to a program-record crop of NFL draft picks.

Georgia could match or exceed the record-14 picks that 2019 CFP champ LSU set in the 2020 NFL Draft in his upcoming 2022 Class, and will certainly beat the program record of nine picks set last season.

But taking an early peek ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft class, Georgia could have a Top 5 pick in the form of defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who the ESPN paysite recently rated the top NFL talent on next season’s UGA team.

It was Carter’s second blocked kick of the season, and beyond that, the athletic 6-foot-3, 310-pounder from Apopka, Fla., led the Georgia interior defensive linemen with 8.5 tackles-for-loss and had 3 sacks to Devone Wyatt’s 2.5 and Jordan Davis’ 2.

Carter’s 30 QB Hurries were second on the team only to Travon Walker’s 32, an amazing number considering the double teams he often fended off.

It’s not unreasonable to think that if Georgia has another run atop the collegiate football rankings that Carter might follow Davis as an Outland Trophy winner, and certainly a Nagurski finalist if not an outright winner.

Here’s a way-too-early look at the Bulldogs Top 5 returning players on offense and defense:

(note: some players not included have yet to announce their intent to return)

DEFENSE

1. DT Jalen Carter

A sure-fire preseason All-American and likely Top 10 NFL draft pick. Carter’s No. 88 jersey should be among the best sellers next season.

2. OLB Nolan Smith

Smith’s decision to return gives Georgia an elite pass rusher who could record double-digit sacks and work his way into the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

3. FS Christopher Smith

With interceptions in the two biggest games of the year, and the gutsy effort to play through a knee injury late in the season, Smith has team captain written all over him.

4. ILB Jamon Dumas-Johnson

The next in line after Roquan Smith, Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean, Dumas-Johnson produced each time he was put on the field and will be a key piece.

5. OLB Robert Beal

Led the team in sacks after assuming Adam Anderson’s position, Beal looks to make most of Super Senior season.

OFFENSE

1. TE Brock Bowers

Speaking of sure-fire preseason All-Americans, the FWAA Freshman of the Year and SEC Newcomer of the Year will remain large part of the Georgia offense no matter who the quarterback.

2. LT Broderick Jones

It’s time for Jones to step up and become the lockdown left tackle he was projected to be, and the staff’s confidence in him his obvious, as he entered the CFP Championship Game in the second quarter.

3. RB Kenny McIntosh

McIntosh’s versatility as a runner, pass catcher and return man gets him the nod for the fifth spot, as he assumes James Cook’s role and could lead the team in yards from scrimmage.

4. QB Stetson Bennett

Bennett’s experience makes him a valuable piece in the offense, even as Kirby Smart will hold yet another QB competition with Carson Beck and Brock Vandagriff vying for the job, if not an incoming transfer.

5.. RB Kendall Milton

Milton looks to assume Zamir White’s role between the tackles and in short-yardage but is also adept at catching passes.

Breakout names: TE Darnell Washington, WR Arik Gilbert, OT Amarius Mims, CB Kelee Ringo, WR A.D. Mitchell, WR Ladd McConkey, LB Smael Mondon, WR Arian Smith, CB Kamari Lassiter

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