Georgia’s Nakobe Dean overlooked in NFL draft’s record run on defenders

Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean poses for photos before the first round of the NFL football draft Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean poses for photos before the first round of the NFL football draft Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

ATHENS – Lost in the bliss of the Georgia Bulldogs establishing an NFL record for defensive players selected in a first round was the one that wasn’t.

ExploreFirst round of NFL draft dominated by Bulldogs

A scenario that was feared going into Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft in Las Vegas happened. Georgia junior linebacker Nakobe Dean – the reigning Butkus Award winner and captain of the Bulldogs’ defense of national renown -- was left sitting in the green room at the Bellagio Resort without hearing his name called.

Dean was among 21 draft prospects who accepted invitations to attend the draft in person Thursday. Thirty-two picks later, he was one of four left unchosen. The others were Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis and Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon.

After the first round was over, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said he was very surprised Dean wasn’t picked. Kiper said he understood concerns about Dean’s 5-foot-11 height and short arms, but added that Dean might have “the highest linebacker IQ of all time” and is plenty fast for the NFL.

ExploreDean wins Butkus Award

“He will give somebody a great second-round pick,” Kiper said.

It probably didn’t help Dean’s feelings that his linebacker mate at Georgia, Quay Walker, was taken in the first round. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Cordele went 22nd to the Green Bay Packers.

When safety Lewis Cine was chosen by the Minnesota Vikings with the 32nd and final pick of the night, Georgia then owned an NFL record for defensive players picked from one school in a first round. Cine followed Travon Walker (No. 1 to Jaguars), Jordan Davis (13 to Eagles), Quay Walker, and Devonte Wyatt (28 to Packers).

Such an unload of talent into the draft validated the designation of Georgia’s 2021 defense as one of greatest of all time in college football. But then there’s Dean, the undisputed leader the group who set a team record for percentage of votes he received from teammates for captain, seemed perplexing.

Coach Kirby Smart seemed to be stumping for Dean when he talked about his middle linebacker on ESPN’s “First Take” on Thursday morning.

ExploreNakobe Dean: The latest test of play vs. measurables

“Look at the NFL linebacker right now and all the free-release game that teams do to throw out of the backfield (to the Christian) McCaffreys, the Dalvin Cooks and all these guys,” Smart said. “Who’s got to cover that guy? He does. You better have a guy that can run, change the direction and cover.”

Dean was a guest on the same show and carried himself with confidence into the day.

“I believe I’m the best linebacker in this year’s draft, hands down,” Dean said. “Besides everything I do on the field, I feel like my mentality is second to none. My mentality, the way I think about things, my mindset and my leadership ability. I feel like I can lead like no other.”

As it was, Quay Walker and Utah’s Devin Lloyd, who went 27th to the Jaguars, were the only other inside linebackers that went ahead of Dean. The question now is if any others might go before Dean on Friday. Regardless, Dean shouldn’t have to wait long.

Other Georgia players who should also hear their names called early Friday night include wide receiver George Pickens, guard Jamaree Salyer, fellow inside linebacker Channing Tindall and running backs James Cook and Zamir White. In all, the Bulldogs have 16 players registered for the draft, all of whom carried ratings that would include them among the 262 selections that will be made through Saturday’s seventh round.

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