Georgia defenders no longer strangers as they strut into NFL

Mar 3, 2022, 11:17 PM | Updated: Mar 4, 2022, 1:19 pm
Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouti...

Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Former University of Georgia D-lineman Jordan Davis said that despite all the star power boasted by the Bulldogs last season, “we wanted to call ourselves a no-name defense.”

In that regard then, the national champs failed miserably.

Eight members of that domineering defense are attending the NFL scouting combine this week in Indianapolis, and at least half of them are expected to hear their names called in the first round of the NFL draft next month.

This group features Davis, D-tackle Devonte Wyatt, edge rusher Travon Walker, linebacker Nakobe Dean and maybe even linebacker Quay Walker, who could sneak into the first round with a good combine showing.

Altogether, there are a combine-high 14 Georgia players at the league’s annual gathering of top college players. Such are the spoils of knocking off Alabama (which has 11 players here) as the top dog in college football.

“We’re going to have a great combine,” Davis said. “I’m confident in all of us.”

In the last decade, the reigning national champion has produced an average of 2.9 first-round draft picks. The Crimson Tide had the most with six last year, including three of the top 10 picks. The year before that, LSU had five first-rounders led by top overall selection Joe Burrow, who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl in just his second season.

The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes are the only national champ since 2011 not to produce a first-round pick in the draft following their title run.

It’s rare that so many stars are stacked on one side of the ball, though, and this was a tight-knit group that spearheaded Georgia’s run to its first national title in more than four decades.

“It’s not about the stars,” Davis insisted. “… That was one of the things that drove us as a defense. We wanted to call ourselves the no-name defense because even though we had all the stars there was really nobody above each other and we all played for each other.”

That may be, but these Bulldogs made quite the name for themselves.

So loaded was Georgia’s dominant defense that another projected first-round selection, edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, was buried on the depth chart in Athens. So he transferred to Florida State for his final season and put up monster numbers for the Seminoles.

Johnson’s consolation for missing out on a national title is a likely top-20 selection in the NFL draft on April 28.

The Bulldogs saunter their way around the Indianapolis Convention Center and into their workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of their 33-18 win over the Crimson Tide on Jan. 10.

“Coming back to the place where we won the ‘natty’ is a good feeling,” Davis said. “You carry yourself different when you’re a winner.”

Don’t the Alabama players know that.

They won five of the previous 10 national championships, sending 18 players into the pros as first-round picks in the process.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys,” Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said of the Bulldogs at the Senior Bowl. “We came up short, but let me remind you all: We still run the SEC.”

Ah, there’s the trash talk.

Alabama’s John Metchie, who tore his left ACL in the SEC title game and watched the team’s other 1,000-yard receiver, Jameson Williams, tear an ACL in the national championship game, chimed in this week at the combine, saying, “I definitely think if we were healthy for that game, things could have been different, of course.”

Wyatt stayed above the fray Friday.

“No, we don’t really talk about that,” he said. “We’re trying to go show ourselves to the coaches.”

Reminded that the ‘Bama receivers have had plenty to say, Wyatt retorted, “Those guys are always talking. The little guys, they do the most talking. The big guys, we’re a little more calm and relaxed.”

For his part, Dean said beating Alabama wasn’t really even the point.

“I mean, beating Alabama for me was never a big deal,” Dean said. “I know it was a big deal for a lot of guys, but for me it was winning the national championship. That was my goal and we were able to accomplish that goal.”

Travon Walker is just pleased these Bulldogs are headed to the NFL as college football’s big dogs.

“It feel great. That’s something that I’ll never be able to forget,” Walker said. “That’s something that’s history, being on the field with all those guys, just being on the team with all those type players is something special and says something about the organization at the end of the day.

“There’s a lot of great players, a lot of hard workers. And we did what we were asked.”

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With contributions from AP Sports Writer Michael Marot.

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Georgia defenders no longer strangers as they strut into NFL