Sean Rayford/Associated Press
Deandre Baker and the Georgia Bulldogs just missed a spot in the College Football Playoff thanks to a heartbreaking loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game, but he can at least take solace knowing he was named the best defensive back in the country.
Baker won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s most outstanding defensive back Thursday, beating fellow finalists Julian Love of Notre Dame and Greedy Williams of LSU.
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
The 2018 Paycom Jim Thorpe Award for the nation's best DB goes to … Georgia's DeAndre Baker! https://t.co/KP4ndZNEjV
He joins a notable list of winners that includes Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, Antoine Winfield, Malcolm Jenkins, Eric Berry and Patrick Peterson.
The lockdown defender finished with 40 tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defended and a forced fumble and stood out against SEC East competition with seven tackles against Missouri and six tackles and a pick against South Carolina.
Baker put up those numbers all while consistently being asked to defend the opponent’s best playmakers on the outside. He countered receivers’ speed with his own to match them stride-for-stride and brought enough physicality to break up passes and dish out hits.
Georgia finished ninth in the country in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings in large part due to the presence of Baker on the back end of the defense.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projected Baker as the No. 19 overall pick to the Denver Broncos in his latest mock draft, but the Bulldogs leader ensured he will play in the Sugar Bowl game against Texas.
“I’m playing in the Sugar Bowl,” Baker said, per Jake Rowe of 247Sports. “…I just wanted to finish it right with my teammates, that’s all.”
If he finishes the season with a victory over the Longhorns, he will go out in winning fashion after being recognized for his individual brilliance as the best defensive back in the country.