Georgia Football Defense to Be Bolstered by Sophomore Stars in the Making
12.57 points per game. The fewest allowed by any Georgia defense since 1981 when the Dawgs held opponents to a daunting 10.16 points. That's what Georgia did in 2019, thanks to immense talent and depth across all three levels of the defense.
And even though there was some attrition in terms of graduating players at each level — Tyler Clark, Tae Crowder, and J.R. Reed — there is reason to believe that they could be even better in 2020.
Part of the reasoning behind the belief that there is room for improvement in 2020 has quite a bit to do with four rising sophomores.
It goes without saying that Georgia's 2019 recruiting class was filled with talented players. Though four featured athletes in Travon Walker, Nolan Smith, Nakobe Dean, and Tyrique Stevenson all made an impact as freshmen and in 2020 they just might be the key to yet another national championship-caliber defense under Kirby Smart.
Walker will receive extended playing time this fall all across the defensive line with Tyler Clark and Michael Barnett's departure, and despite playing a limited role in 2019 and battling a broken hand, Walker still managed to make the Freshman All-SEC team and could be one of the best defensive linemen in the conference this fall.
Walker finished the season rather strong, making the game-ending sack on Bo Nix against Auburn, then in extended playing time against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, he set season highs in Tackles (3.0), Sacks (1.0), TFLs (1.0), and even recovered a fumble. We got a glimpse of what Walker looks like with extended reps and that's exactly what he's getting this fall.
Nolan Smith received limited playing time a year ago, and considering Azeez Ojulari and Jermaine Johnson were the primary reasoning for that, I don't foresee that changing much this fall. However, he so immensely talented, he won't need much time to create havoc.
Even with limited playing time a year ago, Smith finished with 15 QB pressures which placed him fourth on the roster. He was the nation's No. 1 player in 2019 for a reason, and that reason being his ability to get after the quarterback and he will continue to do exactly that this fall.
Nakobe Dean is a star. There's no way around it, he's the next linebacker from LBU that will hear his name called extremely high in the NFL draft. He was so good as a true freshman that Dan Lanning and Kirby Smart pulled Monty Rice off the field on third downs in order to let Dean cover. In 2020, he won't be leaving the field at all.
We've compared Dean here on Dawgs Daily on SI.com to a guy by the name of Roquan Smith and with extended playing time this fall, you'll see exactly why we've gone about such a bold prediction.
As for Tyrique Stevenson, he may not have been as highly rated as the three aforementioned players but he played like a five-star in 2019. And with Divaad Wilson's entering the transfer portal, that's one less member of the depth chart that Stevenson will have to hold down in 2020. Mark Webb will push Stevenson for playing time this fall, especially considering the condensed offseason but No. 7 is going to be featured in this defense quite a bit this fall, and we believe it will be at the STAR position.
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