WHERE ARE THEY NOW: With Alabama and Georgia set to play in national championship game again, let's look back at the players from four years ago... then and now

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: With Alabama and Georgia set to play in national championship game again, let's look back at the players from four years ago... then and now

One won a Heisman, one had to step away from the game, and one's recklessness ended a life

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It’s been four years since that classic national championship between Georgia and Alabama. A lot has changed in that full recruiting cycle since true freshman Tua Tagovailoa threw that 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass to true freshman DeVonta Smith in overtime after taking a 16-yard sack the previous play that knocked Alabama out of field goal range.

The game started off rough with Alabama only managing 21 yards of passing offense before Nick Saban pulled Jalen Hurts for the freshman Tua. However, the game delivered in the end and one reason was the amount of professional talent on that football field. The names in that game are currently spread out all over the NFL. Some players have been great, some haven’t quite lived up to expectations, and some have forced conversations far more important than their productivity as NFL players.

Let’s take a look back at some of the participants from that unforgettable night in Atlanta Jan. 8, 2022.

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Roquan Smith

Roquan Smith

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He was all over the field for Georgia in that game, just like he was all season. Smith was the MVP of the SEC Championship, a Butkus Award winner, and recorded 13 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and a sack in the national title game. So of course the Chicago Bears drafted him with the eighth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He had an up-and-down rookie year, but has settled in as a worthy member of the Monsters of the Midway legacy, even if he still can’t get any Pro Bowl love.

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Mecole Hardman

Mecole Hardman

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Alabama had some trouble, as many NFL teams have had, keeping Hardman from winning deep. Hardman caught two passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in that game. The Chiefs drafted him in the second round of the draft a few months later and helped supply the jet fuel for that 2018 offense. He averaged 20.7 yards per reception and scored six touchdowns as a rookie. A year he later he won a ring as part of K.C.’s Super Bowl champs. As teams have tried to prevent the Chiefs’ big plays, Hardman has been forced to be a more consistent target. This season his yards per reception were way down, 11.7, but he did catch 59 balls for 693 yards.

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Nick Chubb

Nick Chubb

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There may not be a steadier football player in the world than Nick Chubb. He has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in every season in all but two seasons since his freshman year at Georgia in 2014. He struggled in the national championship against Alabama, as did most of the offense, but he was still selected in the second round by the Cleveland Browns. He has averaged five or more yards per carry in each of his first four professional seasons.

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Jake Fromm

Jake Fromm

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Ah yes, the man that Kirby Smart chose over Jacob Eason and Justin Fields as his starting quarterback. He was never a spectacular player, or even droningly excellent at Georgia. The third best pro-style quarterback in his class never passed for 3,000 yards in his three seasons at Georgia and was drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills in 2020. He was released and has been with the New York Giants ever since. Fromm’s first professional starts were in Week 16 and 18 of this season. He totaled 210 yards passing and three interceptions.

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Sony Michel

Sony Michel

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Michel and Chubb shared a backfield for four seasons at Georgia. That 2017 season was a breakout for Michel. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 1,227 yards rushing and was Georgia’s most consistent offensive option in the national championship game — 98 yards, seven yards per carry. Michel was the final pick of the first round for the New England Patriots in 2018. While Patriots fans complained about him for most of his time there, he did help carry them in the playoffs during his rookie season. He rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns combined in two playoff games and the Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl victory. Michel is currently on the Los Angeles Rams and carried the rushing load for the second half of this season.

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Tua Tagovailoa

Tua Tagovailoa

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He became one of the most recognizable names in sports following that three-touchdown second half performance. Remember “Tanking for Tua,” that was a common sign to see at Hard Rock Stadium that year the Dolphins were predicted to have one of the worst teams of all time. They selected Tagovailoa with the fifth-overall pick in 2020, following a junior season that ended prematurely due to a dislocated hip. Through two seasons in Miami he’s missed 10 games and there are still questions as to whether he is the best choice as the Dolphins starting quarterback.

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Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts

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Hurts got the hook in the second half of that national championship game and played one more season at Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma and becoming a Heisman finalist. He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2020 draft. Carson Wentz was the entrenched starter, but Hurts played well enough in his starting opportunities as a rookie that the job was his this season and Wentz was out. Hurts used his legs to propel a dynamic Eagles running attack to the playoffs.

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DeVonta Smith

DeVonta Smith

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The other hero of the national championship game. He would win a Heisman Trophy during the COVID abbreviated 2020 season, and was selected 10th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles this past April. The Eagles passing attack was limited with his former teammate, Hurts, at quarterback, but that did not stop the Heisman winner from making huge plays. Smith averaged 14.3 yards per reception and scored six touchdowns. He absolutely made the most of the 64 passes that he caught as a rookie.

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Najee Harris

Najee Harris

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Another one of the freshman three that made the big plays to put Georgia away. Harris only ran the ball six times in that game, but he totaled 64 yards on the ground. He ran for 1,200-plus yards as junior and senior, and the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him late in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. With Ben Roethlisberger a shell of his former self, Harris had to carry the offensive load with 381 touches as a rookie. Every one of those 1,667 yards and 10 touchdowns was needed to help lug the Steelers into the playoffs this season.

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Calvin Ridley

Calvin Ridley

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He was arguably the biggest star on this Alabama offense. He was the Julio Jones, the Alabama big-time receiver that could blow up a defense on a play-action pass. Ridley caught the touchdown pass that tied the game near the end of regulation and he was drafted late in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Falcons where he would team up with Jones. All appeared to be going well with Ridley to become the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in 2021, coming off of a 1,300-plus yard season, and Jones in Tennessee. However, Ridley only played in five games this season due to mental health issues. NFL Network’s Steve Wyche said on 92.9 The Game’s Dukes and Bell program in Atlanta, that Ridley is looking for a “fresh start,” and a Google search of Calvin Ridley will return article after article about potential trade destinations.

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Henry Ruggs III

Henry Ruggs III

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This is just such a heartbreaking story. Ruggs caught a touchdown pass in that game and would, like Smith, become a high NFL draft pick. The Las Vegas Raiders selected him 12th overall in 2020. Through 20 NFL games he was averaging 18.4 yards per receptions and becoming one of the top deep threats in the game, but we’ve most likely seen Ruggs play in his final NFL game. He was charged in November with DUI resulting in death as well as several other felony counts for his involvement in a crash that killed a woman. Ruggs was allegedly driving 156 miles per hour on a residential street and under the influence of alcohol when he slammed into the woman’s car.

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