Georgia football: A quick look at the 2022 linebacker room

AUBURN, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 09: Head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs converses with Nolan Smith #4 against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 09, 2021 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUBURN, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 09: Head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs converses with Nolan Smith #4 against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 09, 2021 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

We all agree that we have just witnessed a generational Georgia football defensive performance. If not the best of all time. So with star linebackers, Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker departing to play in the NFL, is this a time for panic or optimism for Bulldog fans?

The 2021 linebacker class was extraordinary and helped shape the culture of a dominant defense, which consistently terrorized and dominated opposing offenses throughout the season.

The Georgia defense dominated college football. Throughout the season, this is a defense that recorded 49 sacks. For the avoidance of doubt, that is an average of 3.3 sacks per game which, if you stop to think, means that this defense that gave quarterbacks sleepless nights.

Georgia football has a loaded linebacker room that features key returnees.

Amongst the many highlights of last season, the image of Nolan Smith sacking Bryce Young in the National Championship game to bring down the curtain of the 2021 season will rank high in many Georgia football fans’ memories. This memory defined the Georgia defense  — strong, skillful, dominant.

With 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles in the championship season, Georgia fans would get a massive boost when Nolan Smith declared that he would return to Athens for his senior season.

Last year, draft analysts and NFL scouts had concerns about Nolan’s abilities, but a championship run that showed dominance and leadership started to change those minds. But yet the feeling is that Smith was no more than a two-day pick even after a winning season.

Therefore it makes sense for this 6-3 linebacker from Savannah, Ga., to return for another year. A season in which he can demonstrate greater leadership — a key trait that NFL scouts are looking for to nudge Smith closer to being a first-round pick.

Also returning is Robert Beal, who was ever-present in the championship run recording 12 solo tackles and 11 assists with 6.5 sacks. Beal finished the season very strongly, with 5 of these sacks in Georgia’s last six games.

Such was Beal’s season that he would lead the defense in sacks in this Championship season. At 6-4 and 255-pounds, Beal will look to carry on his explosive end to the season into spring camp.

With Smith and Beal returning, Georgia looks strong at outside linebackers for the new season.

But what about depth on the outside?

Last season Georgia had to rely on Chaz Chambliss and MJ Sherman to cover as reserve linebackers. Both will feature again this season, along with exciting new signees Marvin Jones Jr. and  Mykel Williams.

Williams comes with a fantastic pedigree from high school, where he recorded 81 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles during his senior season.

There will be high expectations from this 6-5 250-pound native of Columbus, Ga. who arrived as a 5-star recruit from Hardaway High School.

Another 5-star new signee is Marvin Jones Jr, whose father was All American at Florida State and would play in the NFL with the New York Jets. Jones Jr was ranked the No. 3 edge recruit in the 2022 class and top 10 in all positions, so he comes highly regarded.

Scouting reports that sight Jones’s electric pace and dominance off the snap make him an extremely exciting prospect for this excellent Georgia defense.

Chambliss enters his sophomore year, having played in 14 of Georgia’s games in the 2021 season as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. Chambliss, who arrived from Carrolton High School as a highly ranked recruit, would record six tackles and 0.5 sacks. All of which will prove invaluable experience as Chambliss looks to build on his freshman season.

Sherman has 25 games under his belt as a junior. Like Chambliss, Sherman played as a reserve linebacker in 15 of Georgia’s games last season, which is impressive as he missed spring football recovering from a torn labrum.

With a full spring and fall camp schedule this year, Sherman will be expected to improve upon the six tackles he recorded last season.

Inside linebacker University or ILU for short doesn’t have the catchy ring to it or look good on a t-shirt, but let’s be honest, it’s what Georgia football does well. The Dawgs send its linebackers to the NFL.

Dean, Tindall and Walker have left to play football on Sunday’s leaving room for the next crop of stars — Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Smael Mondon and Xavian Sorey to pick up the gauntlet and prove they are the next group of linebacker superstars.

While Mondon and Sorey arrived in Athens last year as highly rated recruits, Dumas-Johnson has outperformed expectations and has caught the eye.

Dumas-Johnson played in 2021 as a reserve linebacker and on special teams in 14 of 15 games. He would record two sacks with 2.5 tackles for loss and one interception during those appearances. Expectations for Dumas-Johnson, like Dean before him, are that he makes that leap in his sophomore year.

By comparison, Mondon and Sorey had less impact on the team last season, with Smael Mondon moving to defensive back and Sorey playing only four games.

So what of the 2022 class of Bulldog linebackers?

EJ Lightsey was a late signee after flipping from Florida to Georgia on national signing day. A 3-star recruit from Fitzgerald, Ga., Lightsey receives early comparisons to Tindall. Therefore there is much to live up to for the 6-2 210-pound strong tackling freshman.

CJ Washington is an intriguing proposition. Washington weighs in at 6-1 and 220-pounds and hails from Cedartown, Ga.

Cedartown is also where Nick Chubb is from, which is no coincidence as Chubb and Washington are cousins. He comes in as a linebacker but is a two-way player that has toted the rock.

Jalon Walker arrives as a 4-star recruit out of Salisbury, North Carolina. Walker, one of six finalists for the Butkus High School award, excels in three sports (football, track and basketball) and is an impressively athletic individual.

It is likely then that while Walker may start inside, but may move to outside linebacker and, with his quickness, will almost certainly feature on special teams in his first year in Athens.

Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class has received glowing praise, and rightly so. The No. 3 recruiting class in the nation demonstrates the relentless work that head coach Kirby Smart and his coaching staff have put in, and this hard work is paying off handsomely.

Is the 2022 linebacker class so good that we will forget the legendary 2021 national championship defense?

Next. Georgia Football: 3 quality defensive linemen who must step up. dark

That would be a bold call for anyone to make. However, the signs are that returning stars such as Smith and Beal, plus those seeking to step up in their sophomore year added to an exceptional recruiting class, should make for another exciting year for Georgia football fans.

Spring football will give us our first glimpse of the linebacker class. Not to put too fine a point on it — expectations are high.