With Branden Boykin gone, the heir to the “return man’s throne” should fall to Branden Smith. After all, he certainly has the credentials to pick up where Boykin left off, and while I’m not predicting multiple 100-yard returns or game-changing plays from the rising senior, I do feel that he’ll be entering 2012 with a sense of urgency and purpose that will rival or usurp that of any other player returning
“It’s not all about me anymore – it’s about my daughter. I was just thinking about what’s best for her and not what’s best for me, and right now that’s getting my degree and sticking it out one more year,” Smith said. “I really think and know that I can increase my draft status from here. Right now, everybody doesn’t really know my name, know who I am. This is the year everybody will know who Branden Smith is.” (Anthony Dasher, UGASports.com, 1/13/12)
I’m not sure what type of information Smith received from the NFL Advisory Committee but, had he made the jump, and been offered a contract—even as an undrafted free agent (or UFA)—he stood to make at least $390,000, as a rookie, next season; more than that if you consider a possible signing bonu.
That said, Smith likely saw the benefit of returning and having more of an impact at his position and, possibly, taking advantage of an opportunity to showcase his versatility.
Smith was limited last season due to a lingering concussion, but his freshman season showed that he has the ability to be a threat both on offense and special teams. He didn’t see as many opportunities for that this year with Boykin on the field (and probably as a precautionary measure on the coaching staff’s part as well due to depth chart issues), but you can bet he’ll be in their ears to get more of a chance in 2012—particularly in light of what Boykin was able to do in his senior season.
Boykin, who was likely set to be a late fourth or even fifth-round selection in the draft last year, raised his stock significantly this season by showing off improved coverage skills and closing out the season strong in the Outback Bowl. His stand-out performances certainly caught the attention of NFL scouts and he now could go as early as the second round.
You can bet Smith considered how he might do something similar in 2012, especially given his potential as a return specialist.
Even more, Georgia will have plenty of momentum heading into next season thanks to a defense that returns nine starters, and you can bet that with all the potential NFL prospects on their roster, people will be watching closely. There is no better time than now for Smith to break out and establish himself as a truely valuable defensive back—especially playing alongside the likes of Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, and Shawn Williams.
He’s certainly saying that he’s motivated to do just that but, as with anything, seeing is believing.