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Led by junior Nakobe Dean, this is a really, really solid group. All four starters have pro potential.  

It begins with Dean, though, who is not just the leader of the Georgia linebackers, but the entire defense. He's a finalist for the Butkus Award (best linebacker), was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award (most outstanding defensive player), and was also up for the Wuerffel Trophy (community service). 

Last year, he played through a partially torn labrum for the majority of the season. Dean still started all 10 games and played 76 percent of Georgia’s total defensive snaps in the regular season, and toped the team in tackles with 71. 

"Nakobe is an unquestioned leader because of the way he works, the way he works in the offseason, the way he demands that others work, and he holds them accountable," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "He did that when he was hurt, and he's done it since he's been back. You couldn't ask him to put a better foot forward in terms of his work ethic, and Quay (Walker) goes right along with that.

"That group, Quay, he, and Channing (Tindall) work so hard that it raises the standard for everybody else."

Both  Lorenz Leinweber and Jordan Pan both profiled outside linebacker Nolan Smith. Both evaluations are included: 

Nakobe Dean

Jersey: No. 17
Position: Linebacker 
Height: 5-11.6
Weight: 220
DOB: 12/13/00
Draft Eligible: 2022
Hometown: Horn Lake, Mississippi
High School: Horn Lake

Background

Raised in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Five-star recruit according to 247Sports. Competed in football, baseball, basketball and track in high school. Mechanical Engineering major. Academic standout. Older brother, Nikolas, played tight end at Ole Miss.

Pros

Inexperienced, yet smart inside linebacker who continues to get better as a processor. Dean reads and reacts quickly in the run game, coming downhill well and especially excelling in pursuit. The further the season progressed, the more of a communicator he became. In pursuit, Dean uses his above-average speed to flow to the ball if he manages to stay clean. He takes blocks on low and shows play strength to prevent getting sealed. When tasked with man coverage responsibilities, he stays square and patient. Dean can even turn and run with slots. He plays urgently with strong effort.

Cons

On the shorter side of linebackers, Dean is light and does not look like he can add a lot more mass. In zone, he fails to impact throwing lanes. Biting on play-action leaves space vacated behind him. Dean lacks ankle flexion to change directions quickly and adjust angles late. He often tackles high and has to drag ball carriers down, allowing them to pick up extra yards. A lack of length prevents him from stacking and shedding blocks making him reliant on slipping blocks or staying clean.

Summary

Short, undersized linebacker with above-average straight-line speed and good processing skills in the run game. Dean thrives at coming downhill. Inconsistent tackling causes him to miss too often. A lack of length prevents him from stacking and shedding blocks. Dean projects as a backup inside linebacker who can come in and defend the run. His limitations when it comes to size and not possessing transcendent traits limits his potential to a replacement-level starter.

Grades

7.5 current value/7.9 potential value

Channing Tindall

Jersey: No. 41
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-2
Weight: 230
DOB: 3/28
Draft eligible: 2022
Hometown: Columbia, South Carolina 
High School: Spring Valley

Pros

Middle linebacker with above-average size. Tindall rotates in and out of the lineup and has been a special teams standout for the Bulldogs. He possesses great speed giving him sideline to sideline range and outstanding closing burst. When arriving, he carries his momentum through ball carriers and delivers hard hits. Very good play strength and physicality allow him to absorb and stack climbing linemen at the second level. On the blitz, Tindall uses his speed and strength to blow up blocking backs and tight ends. He has enough agility to avoid blockers that take poor angles in space. Tindall sheds smaller lead blockers quickly. In coverage, he closes space to underneath targets, minimizing windows. He gains above-average depth and recognizes, turns and carries crossing routes developing behind him.

Cons

Playing hesitantly, it is apparent that Tindall does not play free and is thinking a lot. He has poor eyes, takes false steps and gets fooled when reading the mesh point and by play fakes. His hand usage is average, lacking precision when he sheds blocks. Tindall possesses below-average fluidity, looking clunky when gaining depth and lacking the agility to stick with shifty route runners through breaks in man coverage.

Summary

Inside linebacker with great speed, very good physicality and above-average size. Tindall moves sideline to sideline and can take on and shed blocks. He is slow processing and has below-average agility. Tindall projects as a backup early on who will be a very good special teamer. He possesses all the traits required to be a good starting linebacker if he can significantly improve his processing.

Grades

7.8 current value/8.5 potential value

Quay Walker

Jersey: No. 7
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-3.5
Weight: 245
DOB: 5/8
Draft eligible: 2022
Hometown: Cordele, Georgia
High School: Crisp County

Background

Raised in Cordele, Georgia. Four-star recruit according to 247Sports. Business major. Co-winner of the Special Teams Newcomer of the Year award as a freshman and Defensive Most Improved award as a sophomore.

Pros

Playing inside linebacker for the Bulldogs, Walker possesses plenty of length. This allows him to stack blocks and quick, violent hands help him disengage. In a straight line, he is very fast, closing space quickly and displaying sideline to sideline range. That speed makes him excellent in pursuit, flowing to the ball. Walker takes favorable angles against zone runs and is a reliable tackler. On the blitz, he gets home with burst and physicality.

Cons

A lack of eye discipline causes Walker to end up in bad spots frequently. He fails to gain depth after play fakes and lets delayed routes sneak past him too often. In zone, he is a spot dropper, failing to be instinctive and covering receivers. A segmented mover, he gets too high, changing directions slowly and allowing separation in man coverage. Walker is unable to stop the momentum of ball carriers, letting them fall forward.

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Summary 

Long linebacker with good straight line athleticism, Walker has the physicality to take on blocks. He excels in pursuit with his speed. A lack of instincts and eye discipline prevents him from being a playmaker in coverage and causes him to end up in bad spots as a run defender. Walker projects as a middle linebacker who could play SAM thanks to his block shedding. He will be a backup and contribute on special teams in hope to address processing issues. The talent to start is there.

Grades

7.2 current value/7.8 potential value

Nolan Smith

Jersey: No. 4
Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-2
Weight: 235
DOB: 1/18/01
Draft Eligible: 2022
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
High School: IMG Academy

Background

Nolan Smith attended IMG Academy High School in Bradenton, Florida where he was ​​coached by Kevin Wright, was one of four finalists for the Anthony Muñoz Lineman of the Year Award and was named USA Today All-USA first team. As a senior, Smith had 47 tackles, 14.5 for a loss and 6.5 sacks which is quite impressive especially because he spent his first two years of high school also playing running back. After high school, 247Sports ranked him as a 5-Star recruit, first overall in the nation. Smith committed to Georgia and appeared in all 14 games as a freshman in 2019, finishing with 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks. This earned Smith co-winner of Defensive Newcomer of the Year. In 2020, Smith played a rotational role in all 10 games and tallied 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 20 pressures. 

Pros

Leinweber: Smith possesses good length to extend and protect his frame from punches. His long arm connects and allows him to create a push. Against leaning rushers, he is able to double-hand swipe successfully. At the top of the rush, Smith displays ankle flexibility and very good balance to turn the corner. His athleticism is apparent when closing on ball carriers. Quick hands and lateral agility allow him to go backdoor in the run game. Smith brings effort off the bench, makes plays late in reps.

Pun: Nolan Smith is an excellent athlete who is a terrorizing run defender. It all starts with Smith’s freakish get-off, where he keys the center and times the snap very well and his explosive first step covers a lot of ground. Smith makes up for his undersized stature with great technique, playing with low pad level and consistently winning inside hand placement to stand up tackles and control the point of attack. Smith does a great job to set the edge and uses his length to stack and shed, often closing a rushing lane plus making the tackle for a stuff. He shows great understanding and execution of run defense assignments and excels on scrape exchanges, where his explosive first step and fluid hips allow Smith to contort his body and knife through a gap to penetrate. In addition, Smith has great closing burst and sideline speed, allowing him to track down horizontal runs with ease. In the passing game, Smith is an outside track rusher who wins with get-off and primarily a dip move where he can get low to the ground and bend towards the quarterback. Smith has a non-stop motor and will rack up effort sacks after multiple attempts to get off a block. Finally, as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Smith is occasionally asked to spot drop in coverage and has the athletic ability and effort to be semi-functional.

Cons

Leinweber: The former five-star recruit is still getting acclimated to playing the position. His inexperience shows when he fails to read and adapt to sets. Smith struggles to time his pass-rushing moves, causing him to whiff. On the perimeter, he does not process quickly when setting the edge, allowing backs to bounce runs outside. His light frame hurts him as bigger tackles are able to move him slightly.

Pun: Smith is an intriguing athlete but is a very raw pass rusher. He struggles to process pass sets and pair his hands to his feet which often leaves Smith in a sedentary position after his initial move doesn’t land. Smith’s hand timing and power are inconsistent, often struggling to defeat the tackle’s hands and remains locked out of the play. In addition, Smith struggles to convert speed to power, this is where his size hurts him the most - he plays with good technique, getting low, playing with inside hand placement and driving his legs, but still struggles to collapse the pocket.

Summary

Leinweber: A lighter 3-4 outside linebacker with good length, Smith is an impressive athlete, possessing lateral agility and bend as well as straight-line juice. He is still very raw at the position, failing to read blockers and missing with moves. An inability to set a strong edge hurts his team in the run game. Smith projects as a developmental pass rusher with enough traits to eventually become a starter. His immediate impact will be limited to a rotational pass-rushing role, getting after passers from a two-point stance.

Pun: Nolan Smith is an excellent athlete who is a terrorizing run defender but is a very raw pass rusher who needs to refine his hand usage. The former No. 1 overall recruit in the country (according to 247sports) has taken a jump in 2021 and provides teams with a high floor due to his penchant for stuffing the run. He should solely be played as a 3-4 outside linebacker because of his lack of size on the edge and will need to become a more refined pass rusher to add value on passing downs. The tools are there for Smith to become an above-average starter, but he has a long way to go with his hand timing.

Grades

Leinweber: 6.4 current value/8.0 potential value

Pun: 7.7 /8.7

BamaCentral Analysis 

Channing Tindall leads the team in tackles with 57 in the interior, followed by Dean. To give an idea of how he can turn a game, Dean had seven tackles and returned his second career interception 50 yards for a touchdown against Florida. The pick-six capped a flurry of big plays by the Bulldogs who scored 21 points in a span of two minutes and nine seconds to build a 24-0 halftime advantage. Georgia scored three touchdowns off three turnovers and needed just two offensive plays. Senior Quay Walker had 13 tackles in that game. 

The key against Alabama, which has had problems at right tackle, may be Nolan Smith, who has 39 stops and five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks to go along with a blocked punt versus Missouri. He had four stops, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and his first career interception during the win over Florida and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

“Being able to separate from blocks. I just try to work on hand placement and eye discipline every day,” Smith recently said. 

His coaches see that blossoming work ethic which some top recruits lack. 

“He’s really eager to learn and he’s extremely bright and smart," Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said. "He’s one of those people, he signed his signing day papers and the next day after he signed he’s asking, ‘Where’s my playbook at?"

Added head coach Kirby Smart: “He motivates our guys and plays really hard. You can overcome a lot of young mistakes when you play hard and that’s what’s exciting probably about Nolan.”

All this week, BamaCentral will profile numerous Georgia players as the Crimson Tide prepares for another showdown in the SEC Championship Game . Also check out NFL Draft Bible for more evaluations.

Jordan Davis and the Georgia Defensive Line

Jamaree Salyer and the Georgia Offensive Line

Led by junior Nakobe Dean, this is a really, really solid group. All four starters have pro potential.  

It begins with Dean, though, who is not just the leader of the Georgia linebackers, but the entire defense. He's a finalist for the Butkus Award (best linebacker), was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award (most outstanding defensive player), and was also up for the Wuerffel Trophy (community service). 

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