ATHENS, Ga. — There shouldn’t be any anxious moments this weekend for Georgia coach Mark Richt and Bulldogs fans in the final hours before Sunday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft.
Barring an unexpected change of heart, the Bulldogs are getting back a loaded roster after everyone except for junior tight end Orson Charles decided to return in 2012.
Outside linebacker Cornelius Washington, a former Burke County star, and defensive backs Sanders Commings, of Westside, and Branden Smith on Friday joined the parade of returning defensive players that included two All-Americans: linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo.
“You can see it, you can already see it, we’re going to be stacked,” Washington said.
The Bulldogs will return 10 defensive starters with senior Brandon Boykin the only departure (end DeAngelo Tyson missed the final two games with an ankle injury).
That’s a best-case ending for a post-bowl period that Richt said “started out scary,” because so many talented players that he thinks will end up in the NFL one day considered making the jump.
Instead Georgia won’t lose a single defensive underclassmen to the NFL draft off a unit that ranked fifth in the nation in total defense.
That hasn’t happened since 2008.
While offensive stars A.J. Green, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were first-round picks in recent years, the defense lost four players to the draft with eligibility remaining – none of whom went in the first two rounds.
Linebacker Justin Houston (third round) left in 2011, linebacker Rennie Curran (third) and safety Reshad Jones (fifth) in 2010 and cornerback Asher Allen (third) in 2009.
It doesn’t mean that Georgia didn’t have players giving it a hard look.
“There were more guys that were seriously considering it than usual,” Richt said.
Rambo and Commings said the NFL draft advisory committee told them they could go as high as the third round.
“I thought that was OK,” Commings said. “I see myself higher than that. I see myself being a first-round pick.”
Rambo actually informed Richt at first he was probably gone, but then changed his mind.
He said he wants to win SEC and national titles and improve his stock.
“I want to be the first safety coming out,” Rambo said looking ahead to the 2013 draft. “I want to go in the top 15.”
Charles announced his decision on Wednesday, the same day that Rambo and safety Shawn Williams made it known they were returning.
Charles is the only Georgia underclassman that was projected to go before the third round except for third-year sophomore Jarvis Jones, who long maintained he wasn’t even considering entering the draft despite some viewing him as a first-round pick.
Jones wasn’t among the 14 returning players nattily dressed in the Butts-Mehre building Friday afternoon that stood behind Richt for a press conference Georgia set up to share the program’s good news.
“I thought it would be a great day just to announce that every single one of these men is staying with us,” Richt said. “I’m as thrilled as I can be.”
Jones was off to attend events at the Walter Camp All-American weekend, but his words from the regular season rang true.
Jones had said that he was returning as was the entire defense.
Several gave serious thought to making the jump.
“Right on the wire, man,” Washington said.
“I hate going through the process because it’s not fun to think you might lose one, two, three, four, five guys,” Richt said. “I think there’s a very strong bond between these guys that is very important to building a team. I feel like we’ve got the makings of a very strong corps of leadership that hopefully will pay off in this season.”
Washington said he was still deciding what to do until as late as Thursday morning.
“It does sound kind of cliché, but after looking at the group of guys and weighing the options it was just, ‘How can I leave?,’ ” Washington said.
Players who made it to the SEC title game last year only to lose 42-10 to LSU can smell championships.
“We have a great group of guys coming back,” Rambo said. “Everybody thought we had a great season last year. This right here is going to go down in history.”