2023 NFL Combine Preview: Georgia Bulldog’s Defense

2023 Combine Preview Georgia Defense

Ultimately, what can Georgia do for an encore in the 2023 NFL Draft? They were the first school in history to have five defensive players drafted in the first round. In total, the Bulldogs went on to have a record 15 players drafted in 2022. 12 players from this year’s team head to Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis for the 2023 NFL Combine. We looked at the offensive participants this weekend. We’ll take a look at the five defensive players, and one specialist who hopes to hear their names called in April.

2023 NFL Combine Preview: Georgia Bulldog’s Defense

Jalen Carter – Defensive Tackle 

“Has elite quickness and agility considering his size. Has an impressive first step and always leaves the blocker off guard. Not just an interior pash rusher – became a dominant run defender in 2022” –NFL Draft Buzz

Notably, Jalen Carter is the prize of the draft. Carter will likely be the 2nd straight Georgia defensive tackle taken with the first overall pick. Travon Walker was selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022. Carter was a force in the middle of Georgia’s defense for the last two years. Carter was a master at splitting double teams and wreaking havoc in the opponent’s backfield. If Georgia ever puts up a statue of Carter, his tackle in the SEC Championship game against LSU Jayden Daniels makes for a fine addition outside Sanford Stadium.

Even better than his play on the field was Carter’s relationship with his teammates. ESPN’s Todd McShay reported in January that Carter had “character issues” and that it might hurt his draft stock in April. Many of his teammates showed support for his teammate, none better than walk-on defensive tackle, Weston Walker. Walker told reporters how Carter used his scholarship funds to pay for Walker’s meals during the season. Because Walker is not on scholarship, he is not provided the same meals as his scholarship teammates.

Kelee Ringo – Corner Back

“The Georgia CB moves with a twitchiness and hip fluidity you wouldn’t necessarily expect for his size. As a result, he’s able to stick like glue in man coverage against even the most agile receivers. It’s rare to see him give up much in the way of separation.” –Pro Football Network

Kelee Ringo made all of the 2nd and 26 Alabama jokes disappear in an instant on January 11, 2022. Ringo picked off Bryce Young with 62 seconds left and took it 79 yards for a touchdown to seal Georgia’s first national championship in 41 years. Scott Howard’s call still gives many Georgia fans goosebumps.

In fact, Ringo usually drew the opposition’s top talent during his time in Athens. His highlight performance in 2022 came against the Tennessee Volunteers. Ringo limited Jalin Hyatt to six catches and no touchdowns in Geogia’s statement win over the Volunteers. Hyatt torched Alabama earlier in the season for five touchdowns. Ringo will likely be a first-round pick in April.

Nolan Smith – Line Backer/ EDGE

“Ferocious against the run and very good in coverage, is extremely versatile. Despite his build, Smith holds up well in traffic and makes a lot of plays by engaging a block, shedding, and pursuing.” –NFL Draft Buzz

Unfortunately, Nolan Smith‘s season was cut short against Flordia with a torn pectoral muscle. Smith is projected as a first-round talent. Other players in his position have left their teams to work on healing and getting their bodies ready for the NFL Draft. Joey Bosa at Ohio State tore a core muscle and left the team in early October to prepare for the draft.

Smith is different. Rather than sulk or get depressed. Smith became another coach on the field for Georgia. Kirby Smart couldn’t say enough about the impact that Smith had on his teammates. “He does a great job. He is like an extra coach because he is so enthusiastic and getting after it.,” Smart said. ”He brings the energy.” Smith’s measurables, play on the field, and leadership makes him likely to be taken in the first round.

Christopher Smith – Safety

“Terrific processor with extremely quick reaction speed and excellent zone awareness. Has the versatility to play in space and cover ground, or man up receivers from the slot.” –Pro Football Talk

Christopher Smith’s biggest asset is his consistency. Although, his measurables and statistics do not light up a draft board. Smith will likely be a day two or three pick. He cut his team on special teams for Georgia and could find a similar niche in the NFL. Scouts project him to be either a free safety or a slot corner.

Robert Beal – Defensive End

“Has violent hands and consistently breaks away and disengages from blockers. He’s instinctive, reading, reacting and locating the ball quickly, and finishing plays as an authoritative, wrap-up tackler.” –NFL Draft Buzz

Robert Beal stepped in to fill the void after Smith was injured against Florida. Beal was dependable for the Bulldogs but lacks difference-maker stats. Beal projects as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent.

Jack Podlesny – Kicker 

“Has kicked in some big games, but he missed two attempts in a narrow victory over Ohio State during last season’s playoff semifinal. He also has a poor success rate on kicks from distance. Consistency and power are key, and Podlesny falls a little short in those areas.” NFL

Jack Podlesny missed only two extra points in his three years as a kicker. While he did hit 82.4% of his field goals, his 54% from over 40 yards will make him a concern for some NFL teams. Podlesny’s best shot will be to win a job in camp for an NFL team.

Back-To-Back Historic Defenses

Eight players were drafted in the 2022 draft. Furthermore, Dan Lanning, Georgia’s defensive coordinator in 2021, left to become Oregon’s new head coach. Everyone in the media expected Georgia to take a step back in 2022. Watching the SEC Championship against LSU or the CFB Semifinal against Ohio State shows that the defense did take a small step back. Throughout the season though, the defense found ways to bend and not break. Against Missouri, they made sure the Tigers scored field goals, not touchdowns. They stifled a Tennessee defense that shredded almost every SEC team they faced. And then there was the TCU game. Poor TCU. While the 2022 defense may not have been quite as dominant, they did do a good job of finding stops when the team needed them most.

2023 Combine Preview Georgia Defense
Nov 19, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Kelee Ringo (5) runs the ball after catching an interception during the second quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Photo Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports