Georgia football: Deandre Baker brings Jim Thorpe Award home to Athens

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Deandre Baker (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Deandre Baker (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Georgia football defensive back Deandre Baker wins the Jim Thorpe Award after a fantastic 2018 regular season. Baker plays his last game with the Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl.

For the second-straight year, a Georgia football defensive player takes home an individual award. Last year, Roquan Smith claimed the Butkus Award. This year, cornerback Deandre Baker earned the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the best defensive back in the nation.

Baker didn’t win the award for anything he did this season, rather he won it because of what he didn’t do. And what he didn’t do is get beat. All year-long, he covered the best receiver on the opposing side, and each week he shut them down, starting with South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel in the second week of the season. Samuel, ended 2018 with 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Against Georgia, he only caught six passes for 33 yards with zero touchdowns. His 5.5 yards per catch against the Dawgs was his second lowest total for the season.

Two weeks later, Baker faced Missouri’s Emanuel Hall, who ended the year with 756 yards and six scores. Hall didn’t record a single stat against Baker. That set the standard for the rest of 2018.  Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway: two catches, 21 yards. Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb: two catches, 16 yards. Stand out receivers had their worst days against Georgia because of Baker.

Baker’s stats aren’t that impressive besides his 40 tackles, he only intercepted two passes all season. His 10 pass breakups stand out the most. But it’s hard to record stats as a cornerback when opposing quarterbacks refuse to throw your way. Baker closed off his entire part of the field and made life much easier for his 10 teammates on defense.

The Thorpe Award wasn’t the only honor Baker received this week. The Associated Press named Baker First-Team All-SEC. The only Bulldog to earn that distinction. Overall, not bad for a three-star prospect from Miami ranked no. 64 out of all corners in America and no. 657 overall. Baker came to Georgia with little fanfare and didn’t even see the field much in his first season and a half. But when Kirby Smart needed to make a change at corner in the middle of the 2016 season, Baker was who Smart turned to, and he never relinquished his role on the team.

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Unlike many senior players expected to be high picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, Baker is staying with the team through bowl season, and will play in the Sugar Bowl. In New Orléans, he will meet Texas’ Lil’Jordan Humphry. The thousand-yard receiver will be Baker’s last test as a Georgia Bulldog.