It's a great day for Georgia football .....stay tuned— Kevin Butler (@Therealbutthead) December 15, 2016
And indeed it is.
Acting against prevailing wisdom, and some would argue personal interest, it appears that both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will return to Athens for their senior season.
2017 looks to be a bumper crop for tailbacks in the NFL draft with the likes of LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine expected to come out. Other talented juniors like Clemson’s Wayne Gallman and North Carolina’s Elijah Hood are also safe bets to at least consider entering the draft. As a result neither Bulldog tailback was likely to garner a first round grade.
ESPN’s dratf guru Mel Kiper in fact recently told reporters that he doesn’t think either back would be one of the first ten tailbacks chosen, and that he would advise both to stay another year.
That being said, the career of the average NFL tailback is fraught with peril, and can be measured with an egg timer. Conventional wisdom for the position has become that prospects with a shot of getting drafted as juniors should so that they will have one less season of football under their belts (and on their knees) before getting into position to negotiate the second NFL contract, the one which actually sets them and their families up for substantial financial gains.
Still, it’s not as if either would have a hard time selling their utility to NFL GMs. Chubb led the team in rushing with 988 yards and 7 touchdowns in twelve games, and is still likely to eclipse the 1000 yard mark during Georgia’s Liberty Bowl matchup with Texas Christian. Michel, despite missing time early due to a broken arm, has amassed 753 yards in eleven games. That’s actually pretty strong production from two guys who are likely to do well at the combine, and who have about as little off-the-field risk as you could imagine (excepting, you know, the off ATV accident).
The news likely bumps Georgia up a few spots in preseason polls, and should come as welcome news for Bulldog fans who expected that Chubb would be gone before fully recovering from the 2015 knee injury which hampered him in 2016. He and Michel were also not helped by a Bulldog offensive line that, speaking frankly, is unlikely to be worse in year two under Sam Pittman than it was in year one. Brian Herrien has shown great potential in his freshman campaign, and Elijah Holyfield also flashed potential in limited action, but this is a huge boost for Georgia headed into 2017.
Add in talented freshmen D’Andre Swift and Toneil Carter, and Georgia is suddenly scary deep at tailback again after a season with some question marks at the position. This raises another looming question: what are reasonable expectations for year two of the Smart era in Athens? One thing we can say with certainty is that this is not going to lower those expectations.
Almost an afterthought in this story was the word that junior linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy will likewise be back next season. After a rough sophomore campaign Carter was as good a pass rusher as Georgia had this season. Bellamy likewise seemed to get better as the year went on. Having that duo back means that a Bulldog defense that was better than some expected in 2016 has a chance to take a larger step forward in 2017. A good day, indeed.
That being said, Bulldog fans still await final word on electric receiver Isaiah McKenzie and perhaps the best player on the Bulldog defense, safety Dominick Sanders. Those juniors were conspicuous in their absence from today's announcement. Still, if those are the only two NFL defections after year one of the Smart regime, it's a win for the Red and Black.