Would you like to receive DawgNation news alerts? Excellent! News alerts will be displayed in your browser.
(Curtis Compton/AJC)
Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker heads the other way with the football after intercepting Auburn's Jarrett Stidham in the first half of the SEC Championship Game last December.

Own the East: Decision of CB Deandre Baker to return big for Georgia Bulldogs

GEORGIA’S OWN #3: CB DEANDRE BAKER

ATHENS – He didn’t receive the same fanfare as Georgia’s “Big Four” when they announced they were coming back for their senior seasons last year. But, make no mistake about, Deandre Baker’s decision to do the same is just as big for the Bulldogs this time around.

The senior cornerback’s return gives Georgia a cornerstone of experience and leadership in the secondary that the defense desperately needs. Plus, like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter before him, Baker is star already made, not just one in the making.

Deandre Lamar Baker’s name already was a recognizable commodity in the Bulldog Nation before last season. But the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior from Miami burst onto the national scene late last year as Georgia began making its postseason run.

While there were many play-makers in the back end of the Bulldogs’ nationally-renown defense last fall, Baker was the most dynamic and consistent. It was he who manned the all-important “long-down corner” role in the defensive backfield. It was Baker who usually drew the assignment of covering the opposing team’s most talented receiver and it was he who often made the right play at the right time in significant games.

But right after Georgia’s season came to a sudden and disappointing end against Alabama in the National Championship Game in Atlanta, Baker found himself being intensely pursued in the professional ranks. And with the Bulldogs’ season getting over so late –  just one week before the NFL draft underclassmen declaration deadline in mid-January – he didn’t have much time to make one of the biggest decisions of his life.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart – for one – is extremely happy about the decision Baker made.

“Yeah, it would’ve been tough to replace all we had to replace and then you add ‘Bake,’” said Smart, using his nickname for the fleet-football Baker. “I think Bake made a good decision, but Bake probably was the most highly-rated guy when it came to scouts’ opinions as far as deciding to come back. He had a tough decision to make. I feel like he made the right one; only time will tell.”

It’s not a stretch to think that Georgia might have benefitted from Baker having to make a hasty decision so close to the deadline. After all, the bitter disappointment of that heartbreaking ending – and the joy of an incredible run that saw the Bulldogs’ come oh-so-close to winning it all – was still fresh on his mind.

But Baker, like all of the Bulldogs’ draft-eligible players, had contemplated and explored the possibility well before all that happened.

“We fell short,” Baker said of his primary reason for coming back. “So, I feel like I can help the team this year. We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of young talent. I can help mold them.”

That’s true, and Baker definitely has been doing that. Teammates say his tips and advice on playing DB at this level have been invaluable as Georgia seeks to break in three starters.

As for his own game, Baker experienced some setbacks early in camp that drew the ire of his head coach. Smart has been hard on him through the offseason and into preseason camp. He has criticized Baker’s effort or performance in practices and workouts indirectly and directly at times.

But it’s only because Smart, a defensive back himself in college, sees tremendous potential in the former 3-star prospect. He wants to see him get his just reward.

“If he improves and continues to work, he’ll move up the draft board,” Smart said. “But he has chance to do that. He’s a talented player.”

And that’s the bottom line. Coming back to Georgia was for Baker business decision. Yes, he wants to help Georgia achieve the ultimate goal in college football, but in doing so it should enhance his NFL stock.

“It was all around,” Baker said of the NFL feedback he was getting. “It was scattered between the first and the third round. I wanted to come back and do something great with my teammates.”

The thinking now is that both parties can benefit from that decision. Baker is one of only two starters back in a five-man secondary, along with junior safety J.R. Reed. Not only that, he was probably the most valuable.

As evidenced by his play down the stretch for the Bulldogs, he seemed to play best in the biggest games. He had an interception against Alabama in the national championship game, 4 solo stops and a huge pass break-up against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, another pick against Auburn in the SEC championship game and 10 tackles in the win over Florida.

For the season, Baker led the Bulldogs in pass break-ups with nine, was second in interceptions with 3 and was fourth on the team with 44 tackles. A former 3-star recruit, Baker enters this season having played in 38 of a possible 41 games with 21 starts.

“Think about what he did against Alabama and Oklahoma,” Smart said. “Auburn, too. His last three games he covered some big-time people. So, I’m very happy to have him back. He’s been a good leader in the secondary for us thus far.”

If Baker plays the way Smart and everybody else is thinking he will in 2018, he’ll be another reason the Bulldogs should “Own The East.”