ATHENS — The clinking, sawing and hammering sounds you’re hearing coming from the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall grounds is the sound of construction.
The $80 million football facility is on its way to be completed, but the real heavy lifting is taking place in the football offices where Georgia football Kirby Smart is building his 2021 team.
Players are coming and going with decisions to stay or decisions to go, others transferring out while some are quietly on the verge of transferring in.
But the biggest decision — quite literally — is out there for everyone to see and remains in the works.
In Athens, all you have to do is say “99,” but for those who don’t follow the Bulldogs’ program, his name is Jordan Davis.
Davis, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-6, 330-pound nose tackle, had a cryptic post on Instagram on Tuesday after Devonte Wyatt, his friend and lineman, posted that he was part of the “Unfinished Business” campaign that QB JT Daniels triggered with his return announcement.
“So that’s what we’re doing?” Davis said in the message.
There’s a lot of ways to interpret the message, but there’s no other way to construe the importance of Davis’ pending decision.
If Davis returns to lock himself in as a potential Top 10 or first-round NFL draft pick, Georgia’s national championship hopes will look as good as they ever have under Smart.
There was just one defensive tackle selected in the first round of last year’s draft (Auburn’s Derrick Brown, at No. 7), and there were two the year before (Alabama’s Quinnen Wiliams, No. 3; Houston’s Ed Oliver, No. 9).
The aforementioned players were all unanimous All-Americans, while Davis has yet to earn first-team All-SEC honors.
Awards aren’t everything, for certain, but consistency and dominance are factors and Davis appears to just now be coming into form.
Davis blocked a field goal and had three tackles and a sack matched up against Cincinnati’s freshman center in Georgia’s 24-21 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win last Friday.
But neither Davis nor any Bulldogs’ player was in the Top 32 of ESPN Draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay as of Dec. 30.
Davis, in fact, didn’t register in Kiper’s Top 10 at defensive tackle.
NFL Draft rankings are certainly fluid and not always perfect, but Davis has the sort of upside to be a no-brainer once he’s completely healthy and puts a full season together.
Davis suffered a fractured elbow in the Oct. 31 win at Kentucky and missed the Bulldogs’ pivotal 44-28 loss at Florida.
There’s no question that with Davis on the field and at his best, the Georgia run defense jumps to another level.
When Bearcats coach Luke Fickell turned the UGA film on to study the Bulldogs for the bowl game, No. 99 jumped out.
“99 (Davis) obviously is a big deal,” Fickell said. “That’s probably the one thing in our league this year, that we probably haven’t faced.
“We’ve faced really good football teams, good speed and talent, but sometimes you don’t see those guys up front that are that big of difference makers.”
Smart has built Georgia to be great up front, as his program has led the nation in run defense each of the past two seasons.
Along with Davis and Wyatt, Georgia has talented players like Jalen Carter, Zion Logue and Nazir Stackhouse. It’s possible senior Julian Rochester, who suffered an ACL injury against Kentucky, could return for another season.
But there’s no one else on the roster like Davis, who leads both on and off the field.
“The best value they can get is to go as high as possible in the draft which ensures longevity in the NFL,” Smart has said he tells his players.
“That’s the ultimate factor—how long can you stay up there. You can stay up there longer the higher you are picked.”
Davis has been given his NFL draft grade and must now make the best decision for his future, whether that is turning pro and taking his chances in the draft, or taking his chances with his Georgia teammates with another year in college.
Whatever he chooses, it will have a big impact on the Bulldogs’ football program, and that’s a compliment to the great skills and leadership Davis has been developing.
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