Atkins said Tuesday he had made up his mind he would return to Georgia for his senior season regardless of his potential NFL draft stock.
“I’ll be coming back for another year, so my mind’s not on the draft or anything like that,” Atkins said. “It’s set. I’m definitely coming back. My mom wants me to come back, and I want to come back and leave UGA with a degree.”
Atkins said his mother wants him to walk her across the field on senior day next season, and that’s a promise he plans to deliver.
He also wants to complete his housing degree, he said, despite a potentially lucrative future in the NFL.
“I already had my mind made up that I was coming back. There was no real thinking about the possibility. I already knew I was coming back for another year.”
Atkins was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press last season after leading the Bulldogs with 14.5 tackles for a loss and made the watch lists for the Outland Trophy and Bronko Nagurski award this season.
The junior from Pembroke Pines, Fla. has 30 tackles – including 6.5 for a loss – this season and has been a magnet for double teams on the defensive line.
“With the season he had last year, he was going to be a factor,” senior defensive tackle Corvey Irvin said. “They’ve been keying more on him than me, which has freed me up to make more plays while they’re double teaming him.”
Despite the success, Atkins said another year in college will help prepare him for the jump to the NFL after his senior season.
Atkins, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 290 pounds, said he hopes to add some strength and weight before heading to the NFL, while working on his pass-rush skills and technique.
“I can always improve on my game,” Atkins said. “There’s still so much I need to work on with pass rushing, getting in the right stance, run blocking, getting a little stronger and bigger. That would help my stock for next year, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about.”
Atkins said he hasn’t discussed his plans with any teammates or coaches, but he hoped at least one of them would be happy about the decision.
Senior Jeff Owens has been Atkins mentor at Georgia, and the two formed one of the best interior defensive lines in the conference last season. Owens suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Bulldogs’ opener this year, however, and has applied for a medical redshirt. He has yet to decide whether or not he will return next year, but Atkins hopes his decision to stay at Georgia might keep Owens on campus, too.
“I would like that,” Atkins said. “That would be great for me and him both and for the team. Toward the end of the season, I’ll probably get together with him and see what his plans are.”
Despite his personal success this season, Atkins said the team’s failure to meet preseason goals was another factor in his decision.
While playing in the NFL would be nice, Atkins said, he has goals he still hopes to accomplish before moving to the next level.
“That was also a big factor. I want to leave here with a national championship or an SEC championship. That was one of my goals when I was coming here, so that did play a role.”