Nolan Smith #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs forces a fumble by Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines in the fourth quarter in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images/TNS)

The Decision: What will elite Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith decide for 2022?

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

DEFENSE

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

Unknown/not announced

OLB: Nolan Smith

CB Nyland Green

OLB Adam Anderson (suspended indefinitely)

OLB Robert Beal, Jr.

DB William Poole

Departing players/coaches

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)

OFFENSE

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

Unknown/not announced

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)

Departing players/coaches

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)

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