Nolan Smith’s return key for Georgia’s 2022 defense

Georgia football-2022 roster moves

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

1/10/22 - Indianapolis - Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart celebrates with linebacker Nolan Smith after their 33-18 win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. Curtis Compton /

ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs received more good news on Monday when Nolan Smith informed them that he plans to return for his senior season.

Smith, a junior outside linebacker from Savannah and one of defense’s most outspoken leaders, made his decision public on social media on Monday.

“I can’t express how much it meant to me to bring a national championship home to Georgia,” Smith wrote. “After careful consideration, I have decided to return for my senior season to continue what we have been building. Let’s run this thing back!”

Smith’s decision is quite helpful to a defense that will be going through an almost total rebuild next season. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound athlete is one of just four regulars on that side of the ball who are known to be returning to defend Georgia’s national championship in 2022.

Senior safety Christopher Smith previously announced that he would take advantage of the NCAA’s COVID-19 eligibility exception and play a fifth season. Starting cornerback Kelee Ringo (redshirt freshman) and defensive lineman Jalen Carter (sophomore) are both underclassmen.

One other senior that could return is outside linebacker Robert Beal. He has yet to make an announcement, however.

The rest of Georgia’s record-setting defense is headed to the NFL. Senior inside linebackers Channing Tindall and Quay Walker haven’t made any formal announcements. But they’ve both accepted invitations to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which ends their eligibility as it is a professional event.

Monday was the NFL’s deadline for underclassman declaration. Overall, Georgia is losing five underclassmen to the draft. They include inside linebacker Nakobe Dean, safety Lewis Cine, defensive end Travon Walker, wide receiver George Pickens and running back Zamir White.

Smith’s return is key for the defense. Not only does it give the Bulldogs a knowledgeable and productive player, but it also provides them with a captain around which to rally. Since he signed with Georgia out of Florida’s IMG Academy as 247Sports’ top overall prospect, Smith has endeared himself to coaches and teammates for his infectious enthusiasm and vocal leadership.

Smith also has endeared himself to Georgia fans. Before the national championship game, he said he didn’t want to “just be another University of Georgia player.”

“We came in to be legendary, be special, leave our mark,” Smith said. “I want to bring my kid back and tell him, ‘this is what I did.’”

Smith has done some good stuff already. This past season, Snith played in 14 of 15 the Bulldogs’ games, starting in all 14. He finished fifth on the team with 56 total tackles, second in tackles for loss with nine and had 3.5 sacks.

Smith was at his best for the postseason run. He led the Bulldogs with a career-best eight tackles and had eight quarterback pressures and a sack in the win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Smith added seven tackles and another sack – which ended the game – against Alabama in the national championship game.