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And Cine Makes Five: Lewis Cine’s selection by Vikings caps record-breaking night

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

What a night.

Bulldog safety Lewis Cine got the call from the Minnesota Vikings, making him the thirty-second and final pick in tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft. Cine was the fifth Bulldog selected, making Georgia the only school to ever have five players from its defense chosen in the first round (Florida State had four in 2006). The record for players from the same unit in the first two rounds was set by Alabama in 2017 with five. Assuming Nakobe Dean goes in the second round tomorrow the 2021 Georgia defense will break that record, too.

For the seventy-eighth time, please permit me to point out that the 2021 Georgia defense was perhaps the best unit we’ve seen not only in Athens, but in recent college football history. Bear in mind that the player many scouts think was the best player on that defense (Jalen Carter) and the guy right behind Nakobe Dean in tackles and tackles for loss (Nolan Smith) are still in Athens, along with Chris Smith, Dan Jackson, and a host of underclassmen who earned key minutes on that unit. It’s possible that every player who saw significant minutes on that unit at the end of 2021 will be drafted eventually, and that most will go in the first three rounds. It was a generational collection of talent, I’m glad I got to watch it, and I’m glad for the staff who brought it all together.

But back to Lewis Cine. You don’t get to be the defensive MVP of a national championship game without being a big time player in big situations. Cine was a Thorpe Award semi-finalist and a first team All-SEC selection because he was undeniably a playmaker. He led the nation’s top defense in tackles (73) and pass breakups (9).

But Cine’s contribution didn’t end on the stat sheet. If Nakobe Dean was the brain of the Bulldog defense, and Jordan Davis the heart, it often felt like Lewis Cine was the clenched right fist. The art of decleating opposing receivers within the bounds of college football’s ever tightening rule book is a subtle one. Lewis Cine lived right on the edge of what violence is allowed in today’s game, separating receiver from ball and punishing receivers with force and regularity.

That being said, he was also a deft coverage safety, working the deep field with exceptional speed for a guy who could also come up and crack skulls. Cine’s 4.37 Combine forty at 6’1, 200 pounds hints at a violent athleticism that NFL scouts covet.

But, and this is where my evaluation becomes anything but objective, Cine is a lot more than a hitting machine with wheels. He’s also a phenomenal teammate, a guy who stepped into a leadership role early in his career and never relinquished it. He was a cheerleader and coach on the field who will leave a leadership hole to be filled. One anecdote shared by Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell crystallizes what Cine meant to his teammates:

I expect some Viking fans will be disappointed that Minnesota traded back to Draft Cine when Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton was available earlier. I get it. Hamilton is a phenomenal football player. I’m on record saying that he was the only instate player I really felt Georgia missed on in the 2019 cycle and would regret not getting.

But here’s the thing. I’ve now seen Hamilton and Cine play in college, and I actually believe Cine is the more versatile player. He’s far more physical than Hamilton. He’s faster and more fluid in downfield coverage. Cine can play either safety or even the nickel without becoming a coverage liability. Hamilton, despite looking the part at 6’4, 220 pounds, is more an undersized linebacker than a true turn-and-run safety. They’re different players, and Minnesota may actually have gotten the one they genuinely need.

Lewis Cine is a talent, a contributor, and a leader. He’s going to make his teammates better and he’s going to make the Minnesota Vikings a better football team. And I’m absolutely thrilled for him to get that opportunity. Until later...

Go ‘Dawgs!!!