Georgia star linebacker Nakobe Dean and playmaking wide receiver George Pickens were among five players from the national championship team to declare for the NFL draft Friday.
The Dean and Pickens decisions were widely expected.
Dean is rated the No. 8 overall prospect by ESPN’s Todd McShay. Pickens returned from a torn ACL sustained in March to give the Bulldogs’ offense a boost in the College Football Playoff.
Defensive end Travon Walker, safety Lewis Cine and running back Zamir White also declared for the draft.
Dean, the Butkus Award winner for nation’s top linebacker, had 72 tackles this season with six sacks, a team-leading 10½ tackles for loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The junior from Horn Lake, Mississippi led the Bulldogs in tackles in 2020 with 71.
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“The past three years at Georgia have been nothing short of amazing and I will never forget the unwavering support I have received from the greatest fans in college football,” Dean wrote in an Instagram post.
Nakobe Dean was a unanimous first-team All-American during the 2021 season.
Pickens had 85 catches combined for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two Georgia seasons.
The Hoover, Alabama native had Georgia’s longest catch on a diving grab of 52 yards in the 33-18 win over Alabama on Monday. He had five catches for 107 yards in four games played this season.
Pickens in an Instagram post thanked director of sports medicine Ron Courson and the training staff for “the dedication they showed in getting me back on the field.” He said he was glad to bring the fans a national championship.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Walker is the No. 14 overall player rated by McShay. He had 37 tackles, six sacks and 7½ tackles for loss this season.
Georgia’s secondary is losing one starting safety but returning another. Cine announced he is declaring for the NFL draft, but senior Christopher Smith announced he is returning for another season in 2022.
“This journey has been one of the history books!” Cine tweeted. “After careful consideration, I am excited to share that I have decided to forgo my senior year at UGA and officially DECLARE FOR THE NFL DRAFT. Mission complete. Agent 16 signing out!”
Cine led the Bulldogs in tackles this year with 73 and had nine pass breakups and an interception. Smith’s return softens the blow some. The senior took advantage of the extra year of eligibility offered for the 2020 COVID-19 season.
Smith started 11 games, missing time with a knee injury. He was second on the team with three interceptions and had 35 tackles.
White led the Bulldogs in rushing each of the last two seasons after overcoming two ACL tears. He rushed for 856 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Senior James Cook also is finished with his college career and preparing for the NFL draft.
Junior Kenny McIntosh and sophomore Kendall Milton are set to headline the Bulldogs’ running back group that includes Daijun Edwards and four-star signee Branson Robinson from Madison, Mississippi.
The NFL draft deadline for underclassmen to declare is Monday.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Nakobe Dean among five Georgia underclassmen to declare for NFL draft