Georgia will be without three of its defensive stars, including its top two tacklers, when it attempts to defend its national championship in 2022.
Junior linebacker Nakobe Dean, junior defensive lineman Travon Walker and junior safety Lewis Cine all declared themselves for the NFL Draft on Friday.
Additionally, junior running back Zamir White and junior receiver George Pickens have also announced their intention to enter the draft. Senior running back James Cook announced earlier this week that he was leaving with one season of eligibility remaining.
Dean is the No. 8 player overall and the top linebacker in the 2022 draft, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay. He was second on the Bulldogs in tackles (72) and sacks (six) last season and also had two interceptions.
Walker is the No. 14 player overall in the draft, according to McShay. He tied Dean for second on the team with six sacks and also recorded 37 tackles.
Cine, who is the No. 4 safety available in the draft according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., led the Bulldogs with 73 tackles and had nine pass breakups this season. He was named the defensive MVP in Georgia’s 33-18 College Football Playoff National Championship win over Alabama on Monday with seven tackles and one pass breakup.
White, who overcame two knee injuries and a myriad of childhood health issues, rushed for a team-best 856 yards with 11 touchdowns last season. White, of Laurinburg, North Carolina, ranks 15th in school history with 2,043 rushing yards and has led the Bulldogs in each of the past two seasons.
White rushed for 84 yards with a score in Georgia’s win over Alabama on Monday.
Cook, the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, was one of Georgia’s most versatile point guards last season. He rushed for 728 yards with seven touchdowns and had 27 catches for 284 yards with four scores. Kiper lists Cook as the No. 9 running back available for the draft.
Georgia will bring back three running backs in 2022 who have gone for at least 200 yards: Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards. Milton, the No. 12 running back on the 2020 ESPN 300, has missed much of this season with a knee injury. In December, the Bulldogs signed running back Branson Robinson, from Madison, Mississippi, who is ranked second running back in the ESPN 300.
Pickens, who is the No. 7 wide receiver in the draft, according to Kiper, ends his Georgia career with 90 catches for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns. Pickens played the final four games of the season after recovering from a torn ACL. He had a 52-yard reception in Monday’s national championship game.
The Bulldogs will bring back starting safety Christopher Smith, who announced his return next year.