LOS ANGELES ― It was a bit short of an official announcement, but Jonathan Ledbetter appears likely to return to the Georgia football team for his final year of eligibility.
Ledbetter, a junior defensive lineman, was asked Friday about his plans for 2018, and although he said he has thought about the NFL, a return to Athens apparently is the choice.
“I talked about it. But I’m really thinking of coming back and finish it out with my boys,” Ledbetter said. “We’re hoping to do it again. I think a lot of guys share that interest with me. When that time comes we’ll figure it out.”
Ledbetter left a bit of wiggle room, adding later that he’s “thinking about staying.” But he certainly made it clear he’s leaning that way.
“I think it’s best for me and my family,” Ledbetter said. “I hope other guys decide to stay as well. I feel like we have a chance to do it again, and I believe everybody else does.”
That’s not the only good news for Georgia next year on defense. Georgia safety J.R. Reed, who as a redshirt sophomore is also draft eligible, made it clear what his intentions were.
“I’m coming back,” Reed said.
Reed started every game this year at safety and has 69 tackles and 2 interceptions on his stat line.
Ledbetter has started 10 games this year, part of a Georgia defensive line that, while it doesn’t rack up the stats, has helped be stout against the run and helped Georgia be one of the best defenses in the country. Ledbetter has 29 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, along with 7 pressures, heading into the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma on Monday.
“He’s a good player. I think he’s got his best football still ahead of him,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said of Ledbetter. “He’s a joy to work with. Anytime you have players, we saw it a year ago, with Sony and Chubb, and Zo and some of those guys. When you have guys that want to be a part of your program, I think that’s just a tribute to coach Smart and how he’s built things. Players understand that we have their best interests at heart and we’re going to do everything we can to help develop them on and off the field. I really feel like they benefit being in our program.”
Earlier this month junior defensive tackle Trenton Thompson made an Instagram post that talked about being part of the Bulldogs in 2018.
Star inside linebacker Roquan Smith, on the other hand, is a likely first-round choice if he chooses to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. Smith said Friday he isn’t thinking about the draft and is just focused on the Rose Bowl.
Junior cornerback Deandre Baker is also draft eligible and mulling his options, according to those close to the team.