ATHENS, Ga. - With only one week remaining before the deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft pool, Georgia coaches are waiting to hear if running back Musa Smith will return for his senior season.
As expected, junior defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan announced Monday he will enter the draft. Sullivan is viewed as a possible first-round pick.
Even though he could have boosted his draft standing to higher in the first round with a strong senior season, Sullivan's decision to take advantage of the current opportunity was not a surprise.
Like Sullivan, Smith submitted his written request to be informed of his potential draft standing by the NFL underclassman advisory council.
Smith, the MVP of Georgia's Sugar Bowl victory over Florida State, became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher in 10 years. Following 106 yards rushing in the Southeastern Conference championship game victory over Arkansas and 145 yards rushing against Florida State, Smith finished with 1,324 yards rushing for the season.
After battling injuries his first two seasons, Smith missed one game with a broken thumb this season but otherwise proved his durability for the first time.
In what is viewed as a weak year for running backs in the draft, Smith moved up one spot on the potential draft board at the position when Miami's Willis McGahee suffered a serious knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. McGahee then cancelled his plans to enter the draft early.
So far, LSU's LaBrandon Toefield is the only underclassman at running back to declare he will enter the draft.
The deadline to declare for the draft is next Wednesday.
Smith (6-1, 226) could be viewed as one of the top five to 10 running backs in the draft, but this year there may not be many backs selected in the first round.
Considering the difference in signing bonuses awarded players in the first round and in later rounds, Smith faces a big gamble. The junior also has to consider that if he returns for a senior season his draft status could be hurt by a less productive season or an injury.
Smith is enrolled for spring semester and said before the Sugar Bowl that he would consider his draft options but planned to return.
After the game, however, Smith admitted other factors could influence his decision to leave school early.
This season, Smith enjoyed the blocking of an offensive line led by six seniors, plus senior fullback J.T. Wall. Next season, Georgia's young offensive line will be made up of freshmen and sophomores.
"We're losing our entire line and we're losing a great fullback,'' Smith said last week. "That definitely plays a role (in the decision). We're going to be real young up front next year.''
Sullivan (6-4, 304) attended prep school at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy after graduating from Griffin High, so even though he was not redshirted at Georgia, he will turn 22 later this month.
As a junior, Sullivan was an All-SEC first-team pick by The Associated Press and was a second-team pick by the conference's coaches.
Though overshadowed at times by defensive end David Pollack, the SEC Player of the Year, Sullivan recorded 74 stops with 18.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his most productive season.
Sullivan also proved his versatility by moving from tackle to defensive end last season.