ATHENS — Nolan Smith pledged the Georgia defense would “finish the job” on Alabama in the days leading up to the CFP Championship Game, and Smith and Bulldogs did just that with their 33-18 win last Monday.
Many of the stars from the Georgia defense are moving on, including underclassmen and projected first-round picks Travon Walker and Nakobe Dean, along with likely second-day pick Lewis Cine.
RELATED: Nolan Smith leaves no doubt, ready to ‘finish the job’ on Alabama
So now what does Smith do? Underclassmen have until Monday to declare for the NFL draft, and then they have a 72-hour period where they can reverse the decision.
Smith’s return is integral for a Georgia defense that, at the time of this publication. has confirmed only two returning starters — cornerback Kelee Ringo and safety Christopher Smith.
The Bulldogs, of course, have rotated plenty of players so the cupboard is not completely bare with rising stars like Jalen Carter, Jason Dumas-Johnson, Zion Logue and Warren Brinson among those returning whose roles are expected to increase.
RELATED: Kirby Smart expected, understands Georgia football attrition
The status of outside linebacker Robert Beal is pending, as is that of defensive back William Poole.
But Smith is the sort of sure-fire star that every championship defense needs, as he showed this season why he was the No. 1-rated overall player in the 2019 Class per the 247Sports composite.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Smith currently projects as a second-day pick in the 2022 NFL Draft — second or third round — if he were to declare himself eligible.
The reasons Smith could return, following the lead of 2021 UGA icon Jordan Davis, is multi-tiered:
• Smith can raise his NFL draft stock
• Smith can enhance is collegiate legacy as a likely preseason All-American
• Smith can complete his degree
• Smith can secure NIL deals.
• UGA can purchase an insurance policy for Smith
RELATED: Kirby discussed heavy attrition, no panic at Georgia
Smith would be the leading returning tackler (56) after finishing the season playing his best football.
Smith led the Bulldogs with 2 tackles-for-loss in the 33-18 win over Alabama, just as he promised.
“The difference between this game and that game is we just have to do it,” Smith said. “We have to find a way. I believe in our coaches. I trust in the plan.”
Smith also had 3 QB hurries and a sack, as Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was sacked four times and intercepted twice.
RELATED: Bryce Young shoulders blame for Crimson Tide 33-18 loss to Georgia
Here’s a look at the Georgia attrition list
Key returning players
DT Jalen Carter
DL Zion Logue
DL Warren Brinson
CB Kelee Ringo
LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson
FS Christopher Smith
RELATED: Christopher Smith boosts Bulldogs with news of return
SS Dan Jackson
Star Tykee Smith
OLB: Nolan Smith
CB Nyland Green
OLB Adam Anderson (suspended indefinitely)
OLB Robert Beal, Jr.
DB William Poole
DC/OLB Dan Lanning (Oregon head coach)
NT Jordan Davis (NFL draft)
DT Devonte Wyatt (NFL draft)
LB Quay Walker (NFL draft)
LB Channing Tindall (NFL draft
SS Lewis Cine (underclassman NFL draft)
CB Derion Kendrick (NFL draft)
LB Nakobe Dean (underclassman NFL draft)
DE Travon Walker (underclassman NFL draft)
DB Lovasea Carroll (portal)
CB Jalen Kimber (portal)
CB Ameer Speed (portal)
DB Latavious Brini (portal)
Key Returning Players
OT Broderick Jones
OL Sedrick Van Pran
OL Tate Ratledge
OT Warren McClendon
OG Warren Ericson
OT Amarius Mims
TE Brock Bowers
WR Adonai Mitchell
WR Ladd McConkey
RB Kenny McIntosh
RB Kendall Milton
RB Daijun Edwards
QB Brock Vandagriff
WR Kearis Jackson
WR Arian Smith
WR Jermaine Burton
WR Arik Gilbert
WR Dominick Blaylock
WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint
TE John FitzPatrick
OL Clay Webb
OL Owen Condon
TE Darnell Washington
QB Carson Beck
QB Stetson Bennett
QB JT Daniels
PK Jack Podlesny (graduate)
WR coach Cortez Hankton (LSU)
RB Zamir White (NFL draft)
RB James Cook (NFL draft)
WR George Pickens (underclassman draft)
OL Jamaree Salyer (NFL draft)
OG Justin Shaffer (NFL draft)
WR Justin Robinson (portal, Mississippi State)
WR Jaylen Johnson (portal)
P Jake Camarda (NFL draft)