Overlooked by his in-state programs, South Carolina native Tim Jennings almost immediately became an important part of Georgia's 2002 SEC Championship season as a freshman. In 2005, Jennings capped off two crucial wins for the Dawgs – one a game-ending interception against Georgia Tech to ensure a 14-7 win over the Yellow Jackets. The other was an interception return for a touchdown in Georgia's blowout win over LSU in the SEC Championship Game. Jennings was a three-year starter for the Dawgs and ended his career at Georgia with 170 tackles, ten tackles for loss, one sack and ten interceptions. He was All-SEC in 2005. Jennings was the 62nd overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Jennings won Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis.
There was a time when Bruce Thornton was in front of Tim Jennings on the depth chart, but not any longer. Still, Thornton was a heck of a cornerback for the Dawgs. He also played some running back under Jim Donnan at Georgia – getting one start in 2000. Thornton was a dependable corner for the Dawgs during their 2002 and 2003 seasons. His 73-yard interception return for a touchdown was one of only two touchdowns in Georgia's 26-13 win over Florida State in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Thornton ended his career at Georgia with 89 tackles and four interceptions. Thornton was the 121st overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Strong Safety – Sean Jones (2001-03) and Greg Blue (2002-05)
Bulldog fans had not yet heard of Sean Jones before the 2002 Auburn game. Certainly they knew about him afterwards. That game, after all, was the game-changer… the championship would not have been possible without the 24-21 win over the Tigers. In that game Jones returned four punts for 75 yards, but more importantly he had two interceptions of Jason Campbell for 58 yards. Jones was an All-SEC and All-American in 2003 and was a second team All-SEC player in 2002. Jones ended his career at Georgia with 250 total tackles, one sack, ten tackles for loss and seven interceptions. Jones also blocked four kicks at Georgia, which is a school record. Jones was the 59th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
It is hard to find two safeties to put in front of Greg Blue in Georgia history, but two just slightly better than him played in the Richt Era, amazingly. Famously afraid of cats, Blue wasn't scared of anything on a football field. Greg Blue was one of very few players in Georgia history with two SEC Championship rings – and he was a critical part of both. Blue was a special teams star in 2002, and by 2005 he was a team leader. A vicious hitter – his trademark hit (and there were a slew to pick from) came against Auburn's Courtney Taylor in 2003. Blue was an All-American in 2005. He was an All-SEC selection that year, too. Blue ended his career at Georgia with 260 tackles, 13 quarterback pressures and 7.5 tackles for loss. He was the 149th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Probably the second-best defensive player of the Mark Richt Era, Thomas Davis could do almost anything asked of him – special teams (where he was a captain for the 2004 season), linebacker or safety. Maybe the best overall athlete of the Richt Era, Davis thrived on special teams and was a huge hitter. Davis emerged during the 2002 season, as a redshirt freshman, during the Dawgs' run to the SEC title. As time moved on, Davis was transferred from linebacker to safety, where he thrived in situations where he crept up to the line of scrimmage. Richt and company, now famously, signed Davis without seeing him play football live. Instead, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder watched Davis play basketball weeks before Signing Day 2001 and decided to take a risk – it paid off. Richt has commented often on Davis' tackling form. He spent 842 of 880 of Georgia's defensive plays on the field for the Dawgs in 2003 and ended his career with 280 tackles. Davis was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Jermaine Phillips may take exception to anyone being called a better athlete than him – and he would have a really good argument for himself. On the football field Phillips wasn't too shabby either. A head-hunting safety with serious speed, Phillips only played one season with Richt, but he left his mark on Georgia. He was the special teams captain in 2001, but started his career as a back-up wide receiver for Jim Donnan. The move to safety paid off for Phillips – he was All-SEC in 2001. He ended his career with 165 tackles and five interceptions. Phillips was the 157th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft and won Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay.
Cornerback – DeMario Minter (2002-05) and Tim Wansley (1998-01)
DeMario Minter almost fell off the face of the Earth just before the end of his sophomore season. Good thing for him Georgia played, and beat, Purdue at the 2004 Capital One Bowl. The Boilermakers' pass-happy offense made for more cornerbacks on the field, and Minter started for the first time in a long time that day. From that moment on Minter took off. He had a critical interception in the end zone against Tennessee in 2005. Minter was steady. He was a physical cornerback who could also run with receivers and was one of only a few players to win two SEC rings while at Georgia. He was an All-SEC performer in 2005 ending his career with 134 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 23 deflections and two interceptions. Minter was the 152nd overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
At a time when Georgia needed playmakers to step up Tim Wansley was there. Up 21-17 with time winding down in the game, Wansley stepped in front of George Godsey's pass to take it 28 yards for a touchdown. Ball game – Tech suffered that same fate for the next 6 years. That play alone should have Wansley high on any list, but his play the rest of his career would. Wansley was an All-SEC second team selection in 2000 and made it to the first team in 2001. Wansley was the 233rd overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, winning Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay.