Georgia football: Deandre Baker not playing in Sugar Bowl afterall

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

Georgia football cornerback had a change of heart recently and will not play in the Sugar Bowl, head coach Kirby Smart announced recently.

Senior cornerback Deandre Baker excited Georgia football fans earlier this month when he announced his intentions of playing in the Sugar Bowl. The Jim Thorpe Award winner and projected first round draft pick went against the grain with his decision, in an era where players already expecting to go high in the draft chose to sit out bowl games that aren’t for championships. But within the last week, Smart said Baker changed his mind on the subject.

"“He was very honest about it. He was very concerned about it. We at the University of Georgia support his decision. It’s a tough decision when you look at it, he was forced to make it. He probably spoke prematurely at the Thorpe Award but it was on his mind.”"

However, Baker is still with the team in New Orléans to help train his replacements Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell. Clearly Baker is still devoted to the Georgia football program which is why he initially planned on playing and is still with the team rather than staying home in Athens or Miami. Smart noted that Baker changed his mind after spending time with his family during Christmas break.

So, why the change of heart? We’ll have to hear from Baker himself to get a reason. But he likely decided to sit the game out for the same reason many in his position have, health. Baker doesn’t have anything left to prove to NFL scouts. He’s a first round pick, all year long he shut down elite receivers. Missouri’s Emanuel Hall, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Florida’s Van Jefferson and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy all played below their standards while running routes against Baker.

It’s been 28 games since the last time Baker allowed a touchdown. You’ll have to go back to the 2016 Liberty Bowl against Texas Christian in Baker’s sophomore season to find the last time a receiver beat him for a score.

Baker is going to make a lot of money in a few short months with a lucrative contract and a hefty signing bonus. But he’ll earn a lot less if he suffers a severe injury that could keep him from playing in the 2019 NFL season, or worse, permanently affect his entire pro career. As much as I’d love to see Baker play one more time, this is the right decision for him. Georgia is looking to end the season on a high note. But a potential career ruining injury to a future NFL star would be a black eye on the Sugar Bowl, win or lose.

Fans shouldn’t be too upset, now the Campbell/Stokes era at corner can begin one game early. I recently named the duo as the best freshmen of 2018. Both started and played major roles for the Dawgs all season. Campbell struggled at times, and eventually lost his starting job to Stokes. But merely starting at cornerback in the SEC as a true freshman is an accomplishment by itself. At times, he showed his elite potential. Stokes, a redshirt freshman, had to play and practice very well to become a starter when he did. He is second on the team in pass breakups with eight.

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A good showing from them in the Sugar Bowl against Texas’s great offense will give Georgia’s defense a ton of momentum heading into the spring and the 2019 season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Smart helped Baker decide to sit out the game so he could have his 2019 starting defensive backs lineup together once before the team had to report for the spring.