2022 NFL Draft: Legend of Georgia’s dominant defense will keep growing if unit smothers first round

The legacy of Georgia’s 2021 defense continues to be built this week. As many as five Bulldogs could be taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday. One of projected first-round picks, All-America linebacker Nakobe Dean, has considered the history that may be made.

“If they forget everything, the myth about Jordan Davis might grow,” Dean told CBS Sports. “He was 7-foot-5,500 pounds. The myth about the defense might grow and grow.”

Davis, projected to be another one of those five first-rounders, isn’t quite that big. The Outland-Trophy winning defensive tackle is merely 6-foot-6, 340 pounds. But fables are already forming around that Dawgs D. The more time that passes from January’s win in the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship, the more the legends propagate.

Let’s frame that Georgia D across NFL Draft history. If four UGA defenders are taken in the first round, that would tie a record from one team (Miami in 2004, Florida State in 2006). It’s certainly a good place to start. Five, of course, would set the record.

Dean was the leader on a unit that allowed the fewest points per game in a decade.

The Mississippi product was first in tackles for loss (10.5) second in total tackles (72) and sacks (six) and first in inspiration. His season proved a star football player on a national title-winning team can still be part of the educational experience. Dean was a chemical engineering student with a 3.5 GPA.

That’s a discussion point when pay-for-play is this close in the name, image and likeness era.

“I feel like, at the end of the day, if you’re playing college football for NIL, you still have to perform,” Dean said.

How unique. Dean originally wanted to be a doctor when he enrolled at Georgia but didn’t enjoy a chemistry class. He gravitated toward mechanical engineering as he developed an interest in making prosthetics.

Dean is about two semesters short from his degree. The dedication is definitely there. He had to learn to “thrive on five” (hours of sleep) as he chased that degree.

“There’s a lot of things before you get to college they say that you can do … because they want to get you, of course,” Dean said. “And then it’s like, you get here, it’s way harder than they probably made it appear. But that’s college. That’s life. That’s growing up. That’s maturing.”

This is a snapshot of the nation’s best collegiate linebacker. The last eight Butkus Award winners have started 404 NFL games. Only one (Reuben Foster) is not in the league.

Dean is perceived as the best sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the draft. He’s been mocked as high as the top 15, though some concern over his measurables has others projecting him in the early second round.

After injuring a pectoral muscle bench lifting in February, Dean did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine. That left him to watch fellow Georgia defensive standouts tear it up with Davis (4.78 seconds), Devonte Wyatt (4.77) and Travon Walker (4.51) all blazing in the 40-yard dash.

That speed and athleticism is also part of the defense’s legacy. If not for giving up a final touchdown to Alabama in the national title game, the Dawgs would have been the first defense to average less than 10 points per game since the Crimson Tide in 2011.

With 10 minutes left, Georgia trailed Alabama, 18-13. After a four-decade wait, the Dawgs would not be denied, scoring the final 20 points of the game.

“We never thought we were going to give that game up,” Dean said. “Not a sliver thought in my mind thought that this wasn’t our game to win, no matter what the scoreboard was.

“For every guy on this team, there was never thought like, ‘Man, did we just lose this game?’ or ‘Are we about to lose this game?’ It was all, ‘No, it’s our game. It’s our championship. We just have to go take it?'”

The ask now is that Georgia run it back. It’s going to be tough. A school record was set last year when nine players were picked in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are projections that list as many as 15 Dawgs who could be drafted this week. Talk about a legacy…

“It was big for us to be able to get the job done for the state, for the fans, for everybody who has been waiting for it,” Dean said. “I still don’t think how much of an impact we would have on the state of Georgia, kids growing up and being able to see that.

“We’re going to be [good] for a long time. As far as Georgia being able to ‘repeat’ … it’s not so much they’re defending a title. It’s more like they’re’ fixin’ to win another one.”

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