Former Georgia football team captains Monty Rice, Ben Cleveland and Eric Stokes have made it official, they are forgoing the Peach Bowl experience to focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft.

UGA coach Kirby Smart said last Saturday that players opting out of bowl games is not the trend it has been made out to be.

“It’s not necessarily the modern thing or the trend to do that,” Smart said. “People make it out to be that way, but that’s not actually true.”

Smart said 58 of the top 64 players selected in last year’s NFL draft who had bowl games last season played in them.

Smart confirmed reports last Saturday that Rice, Cleveland and Stokes were not expected to play in the bowl game. The head coach said Rice (foot) and Cleveland (shoulder) had ailments they had been playing with.

Tight end Tre’ McKitty, who also opted out, has been dealing with a knee, Smart said.

Former UGA outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson also opted out, recently announcing he’s transferring to Florida State.

Smart has not addressed the status of former 2019 starting cornerback DJ Daniel, who is also believed to have opted out to prepare for the Senior Bowl.

The Bulldogs had three players opt-out of last year’s Sugar Bowl, with team captains Andrew Thomas and J.R. Reed electing not to travel to the bowl site.

Reed had aggravated a foot injury during bowl preparation in Athens and looked to prepare for the NFL combine.

Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson, like Thomas a first-round NFL pick last year, also opted out of the Sugar Bowl game with Baylor.

There were at least 13 UGA players who did not play in the 26-14 win over the Bears.

Smart indicated at the time it was the nature of the beast.

“The NFL environment we have, if we continue to recruit at a high level, which we’ve done, this is probably going to be an annual deal where guys decide that I’m not going to play in the game based on certain reasons or whatever they choose,” Smart said last year. “And that’s the choice they have. I respect that.”

Smart, understandably, explained this year that he wanted the focus to be on the players who are participating in the game, and he is proud of them for doing so.

Outside linebacker Azeez Ojuarli, projected as a first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick by some, has elected to play in the Peach Bowl after several reports that he was opting out.

Senior Richard LeCounte continues to practice in an effort to overcome the injuries he sustained in a Halloween Night dirt bike crash on Macon Highway, and senior defensive end Malik Herring is playing in the Peach Bowl even with a Senior Bowl invite in hand.

Rice, Cleveland, McKitty, LeCounte, Herring, Daniel, and defensive back Mark Webb all have been invited to the Jan. 30 game in Mobile, Ala., which features a week of practices scouted heavily by all of the NFL coaching staffs and general managers.

It’s a record number of Georgia players at the Senior Bowl as things stand, more evidence of the talent Smart is recruiting and developing for the NFL level.

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