WATCH: Kirby Smart details process of finding next elite defensive playmaker

ATHENS, Ga., — The Georgia football defense has produced a national award winner in each of the past two seasons. But as of right now, it’s hard to find a candidate who might be able to do that in 2019.

The 2017 team was led by Roquan Smith as took home the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. He racked up 137 tackles and 6.5 sacks that season as Georgia ended up winning the SEC. Deandre Baker won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2018, which goes to the best defensive back in the country.

But as for this upcoming season, there isn’t an obvious candidate. Safety J.R. Reed was voted First Team All-SEC, but does he have the upside to become one of the nation’s best? And it might be far too soon to expect national awards out of freshmen like Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith.

When meeting with the media on Monday, Kirby Smart was honest in his assessment of the Georgia defense and the potential to have a true difference-maker at the position.

“It’s hard to find a guy who just affects the game outside a dominate pass rusher and it’s still yet to be determined if we have that,” Smart said. “I don’t see one right now that I say, ‘that guy’s just unblockable on third down.’ If it was that way, it makes things a little simpler to call the game as opposed to having create pressures or do things to create plays. … Right now, I don’t know that we have that but we’ve got good depth, we’ve got some good young players.”

Related: Georgia football defense ready for Vanderbilt’s talented offensive playmakers

Some names to potentially watch in addition to those listed above include cornerback Eric Stokes, defensive tackle Tyler Clark and inside linebacker Monty Rice. All three have played significant snaps for Georgia in the past and figure to have big roles on the 2019 defense.

Clark, along with safety Richard LeCounte did end up on the preseason All-SEC team. 

Smart, Jake Fromm, Charlie Woerner and Reed also touched on a number of other topics prior to the Vanderbilt game. You can hear and see what they had to say about the Georgia defense as well as the 2019 opener against Vanderbilt.

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart previews Vanderbilt opener

J.R. Reed excited to open season against SEC foe in Vanderbilt

Jake Fromm explains how Georgia football has changed over the years

Charlie Woerner expects big things out of Georgia tight ends this season

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