Georgia's defensive backfield has been decimated over the last month with NFL Draft declarations, senior graduates and an unexpected NCAA transfer portal entry. However, one could make the argument that the loss of linebacker Monty Rice is the biggest.
Rice was the emotional and vocal leader of the team, and he returned for a senior season in Athens to improve his NFL Draft stock. He did that during the 2020 season and he did so with a very rough foot injury, one that sources close to the situation tell Dawgs Daily was much worse than was reported throughout the year.
"He’s improving his opportunity to go in the NFL because they have guys every week in the NFL who are 90 percent or 85 percent. You see it every week; a guy goes out there and gives them what he can. He goes, because they’ve got a 53-man roster, and he might be the best player. For those guys, they’re going to think extremely highly— at least the guys I’ve talked to in the NFL— of the players who are willing to push themselves and play hurt, as long as he can’t injure himself worse, which that can’t happen right now based on his injury." - Head coach Kirby Smart on Monty Rice
Despite every NFL team but New England, Tennessee and Baltimore throwing the ball more than they run it, it's still important to stop teams from running the ball on the NFL level. Rice does exactly that.
In 2019, he wasn't on the field for most third-down passing situations — which Georgia's defense put opponents in quite often — and yet he still managed to lead the team in tackles with 89. His ability to diagnose plays, shed blocks and fill gaps correctly have made him an elite run defender at the linebacker position.
In 2019, Tae Crowder and Nakobe Dean were often used as the passing down personnel. So, whether or not Rice could be an asset in coverage, he wasn't truly able to show it. However, in 2020, he was on the field a good bit on third down and though it's still a questionable portion of his game, he's not a liability.
NFL teams are not looking for two-down linebackers anymore. If you can't add value in the passing game, odds are you won't be having a very long career at the next level. This is the portion of Rice's game that could still use some polish, but he's improved drastically over the years.
NFL Draft Projection - Third Round
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