Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Chubb, Michel returning, and Smart's second season just got better


It is Selling Season in college football. Coaches sell recruits on their program and the future. Agents sell potential clients on their NFL potential and income.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart first season didn't go nearly as well as expected. But his ability to sell the masses on next season just got a lot easier. The Bulldogs, who ended the regular season with a home loss to Georgia Tech and will drag a 7-5 record into the Liberty Bowl in two weeks, announced that four starting players will bypass the NFL draft and return for their senior seasons. That includes the most important player of all: Nick Chubb.

Chubb, who was expected to be a Heisman Trophy candidate this season but often struggled behind a weak offensive line, suspect play-calling by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and perhaps injury, will return to the Dogs in 2017. Also coming back are No. 2 tailback Sony Michel and linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.

This is a huge win for Georgia in general and Smart in particular. The fact that the school will give him at least three or four years to implement his program, recruit his own players and establish Georgia as contenders doesn't dismiss the fact that this season has left some to wonder about his abilities as a head coach. Smart would have supported all four players going pro, but his team next season should be better off because they didn't.

“I’m excited about the future of the Georgia Bulldog program, this means a lot to me and for our program that they all made this decision,” Smart said.

On offense, there's no guarantee the line will be better next season but it certainly can't be worse, quarterback Jacob Eason will be in his second season (and presumably better) and Chaney also should have a better idea how to use Chubb and Michel in Year 2.

On defense, the Bulldogs have the potential to have one of the SEC's strongest units -- assuming they can figure out how to stop Tech's option .

Chubb and Michel returning is a little more surprising than Carter and Bellamy doing so. While both tailbacks saw their likely draft stock fall -- with neither expected to go before the third round -- most good running backs leave early because of the wear and tear on their legs. Backs have been devalued somewhat in the pass-happy NFL and teams are particularly cautious drafting players who have had a large number of carries.

But Chubb and Michel were convinced to stay, whether by past results, future expectations or both.

Chubb, via our Seth Emerson, said he had decided five days ago to go pro, then changed his mind: "It just didn’t feel right. I felt like if I needed to leave I’d feel it and be able to accept it and move. Something kept telling me: Nick maybe not right now. It’s not the right time."

WalterFootball.com recently slotted Chubb as the seventh best running back in the draft (second or third round) and listed Michel 12th (third or fourth round). The commentary:

12/3/16: In 2016, Chubb has averaged 4.8 yards per carry for 988 yards with seven touchdowns. He has five receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown as well. Chubb was held out of the game against Tennessee with a leg injury, and while he has returned to the field, he hasn't been the same this season. Chubb doesn't quite have the speed and explosion that he had before his 2015 knee injury. Considering it is only about a year since he was hurt, that is understandable. Chubb is more than a player who runs well; he has displayed some nice blitz pickup at times. He also has flashed quickness, power, and the cutting ability to move the chains. Even at 80-90 percent, Chubb seems to remain a tough runner capable of hurting a defense.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said on a recent media conference call, "I don’t think Chubb or Michel has maximized his grade yet, and another year might allow that to happen. ... If you’re happy being a third-, fourth- or fifth-round pick, you come out.”

Chubb and Michel thought otherwise.

Seldom is there positive news sandwiched between a loss and the Liberty Bowl.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.