Georgia will be without its top two rushing leaders and top two tacklers when it tries to defend its national championship in 2022.
Junior linebacker Nakobe Dean, junior safety Lewis Cine and junior running back Zamir White all declared for the NFL draft on Friday. Senior running back James Cook announced earlier this week that he is leaving with one season of eligibility remaining.
Also, junior receiver George Pickens, who missed most of the 2021 season with a torn ACL, announced on Friday that he is entering the NFL draft.
Dean is the No. 8 overall player and top linebacker in the 2022 draft, according to ESPN’s Todd McShay. He was second on the Bulldogs in tackles (72) and sacks (six) last season and also had two interceptions.
Cine, who is the No. 4 safety available in the draft according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., had 73 tackles and a team-high nine pass breakups this season. He was named defensive MVP of Georgia’s 33-18 College Football Playoff National Championship game win over Alabama on Monday with seven tackles and one pass breakup.
White, who overcame two knee injuries and myriad health problems as a child, ran for a team-high 856 yards with 11 touchdowns this past season. White, from Laurinburg, North Carolina, ranks 15th in school history with 2,043 rushing yards and led the Bulldogs in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
White ran for 84 yards with one score in Georgia’s victory against Alabama on Monday.
Cook, the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, was one of Georgia’s most versatile playmakers this past season. He ran for 728 yards with seven touchdowns and had 27 catches for 284 yards with four scores. Kiper Jr. ranks Cook as the No. 9 running back available for the draft.
Georgia will bring back three running backs in 2022 who ran for at least 200 yards: Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards. Milton, the No. 12 running back in the 2020 ESPN 300, missed much of this season with a knee injury. In December, the Bulldogs signed tailback Branson Robinson, from Madison, Mississippi, who is ranked the No. 2 running back in the ESPN 300.
Pickens, who is the No. 7 wide receiver in the draft, according to Kiper Jr., finishes his Georgia career with 90 catches for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns. Pickens played in the final four games of the season after recovering from a torn ACL. He had a 52-yard reception in Monday’s national championship game.
The Bulldogs will bring back starting safety Christopher Smith who announced he is returning next year.