Nolan Smith to Return to Georgia for Senior Season After National Championship Win

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 10: Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Nolan Smith (4) celebrates with a cigar following the CFP National Championship college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Jan. 10, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Georgia Bulldogs edge-rusher Nolan Smith announced on Monday he's returning to the school for his senior season:

Jeff Sentell @jeffsentell

Nolan Smith’s birthday is tomorrow. But he’s giving <a href="https://twitter.com/DawgNation?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DawgNation</a> the big present early today. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RunItBack?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RunItBack</a> <a href="https://t.co/abnO8IJSSD">pic.twitter.com/abnO8IJSSD</a>

Smith was a key player for the Bulldogs in their run to a national championship, posting 56 tackles (nine for loss), 3.5 sacks, an interception and 27 quarterback hurries on the season. 

Smith famously sacked Bryce Young on the final play of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game:

ESPN @espn

The moment the Dawgs became national champions 🎉<a href="https://twitter.com/GeorgiaFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GeorgiaFootball</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NationalChampionship?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NationalChampionship</a> <a href="https://t.co/H2VenrgTQ1">pic.twitter.com/H2VenrgTQ1</a>

Georgia's dominant defense from this past season is losing cornerback Derion Kendrick, safety Lewis Cine, linebacker Nakobe Dean and defensive lineman Travon Walker to the NFL draft and defensive back Latavious Brini to the transfer portal.

Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is also departing the program after accepting the head-coaching position at Oregon. 

So the Bulldogs will have some fresh faces on the defensive side of the ball next season. Getting back Smith will help alleviate those adjustments, however. 

While it's good news for Georgia, it also may have been the logical career move for Smith as well. In December, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. did not have him ranked as one of the 2022 NFL draft's top-10 defensive ends or outside linebackers. 

The upcoming draft class is pretty loaded on the edge, with players like Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux and Purdue's George Karlaftis all likely to be first-round picks, among others. 

Returning to Georgia for another season will allow Smith to improve his draft stock and work his way into the first-round conversation. 

Defensive backs Tykee Smith and Christopher Smith are also returning to the Bulldogs for their senior seasons, per ESPN's Alex Scarborough