ATHENS — When it comes to a person’s value as a professional athlete, there is always rumor and reality. Often, there is a significant gap between the two.
As prospects work out for NFL scouts and executives before the annual draft, they’re usually told by their advisers and people that love them how great they are and that they’ll surely get drafted and probably earlier rather than later.
Georgia wide receiver Jayson Stanley often earned the Bulldogs’ coveted Junkyard Dawg chain for blocks. (Lauren Tolbert/UGA Athletics)
Jayson Stanley doesn’t operate under such illusions, or even listen to them.
If ever there was a pragmatist to wear the red and black of Georgia, it is this 6-foot-2, 207-pound wide receiver from Fairburn. He possesses all the traits of an elite athlete, in particular speed, confidence and competence. He just doesn’t spend much time wading in the pool of expectations.
The gift of humility might be Stanley’s greatest asset as the third and final day of the NFL draft arrives. While some of his teammates may find themselves nervously chewing their fingernails with each passing pick, Stanley busies himself only with joyous preparation and relaxation with family.
“We’re just hanging at the house, having a little brunch of waffles and quiche and all things my family enjoyss,” said Yvette Stanley, Jayson’s mother. “We are excited about whatever opportunity comes his way, whether it’s now or after the draft as a free agent. So we’re really happy.”
Well-grounded, those Stanleys are.
The best way to illustrate Jayson Stanley’s attitude and demeanor — which made him one of coach Kirby Smart’s favorite players these last three years — was what he told reporters at UGA Pro Day when he was asked whether he was nervous about having to work in front of so many scouts and NFL executives.
Said Stanley, without a moment’s hesitation: “To me this is easy, because I’m not practicing with Coach Smart. That’s a lot more pressure.”
As one might glean from that answer, Stanley’s best strongsuit is probably his desire to please. He’s coachable and he wants to the give the Bulldogs what they need.
Early in his career, after signed with the Bulldogs as a 4-star prospect out of Creekside High, he thought that was to get open deep and catch touchdown passes. And with world-class speed, the first part of that equation was easily achievable.
But after the transition from Mark Richt as Georgia’s coach to Smart, it was drilled into him that blocking and special teams contributions were what would get him on the field more than anything.
In the end, Stanley spent a lot of time on the field. He played in 36 games with 8 starts. He did that by giving Smart and the Bulldogs what they needed.
And what he has the NFL needs, too. Here’s three things to know about Jayson Stanley:
Speed to burn
Mecole Hardman generally gets the label as Georgia’s fastest player, and that was validated with his showing at the NFL combine when he recorded an electronically-timed 4.33-second, 40-yard dash. But Hardman always made a point to give a nod to Stanley whenever the fastest-guy discussion came up. Players at UGA aren’t timed in the 40, but they race each other from time-to-time, of course, and are also competing with each other daily in practice. Stanley demonstrated that speed during Georgia’s Pro Day last month, breaking the 4.4 mark twice and turning in the day’s low time at 4.37.
Specialties are his specialty
Stanley’s greatest hallmark at Georgia was his contribution on special teams. The last three years, Stanley was a member of all four of the Bulldogs’ special teams units: punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return. He was a gunner on punt coverage and he’d block the gunners on returns. He was a “head-hunter” on kickoff team and a downfield blocker on returns. Most of that came about because Stanley trained himself to become one of the teams’ most effective outside blockers on offense. Alongside rising senior Tyler Simmons, that’s what earned him eight starts and got him on the field for some of the Bulldogs’ greatest running plays the last three seasons.
“Coach Smart installed that in my head,” Stanley said. “Why not play all four special teams? Why not knock people’s heads off blocking and being physical?”
That elusive touchdown
Still, the goal of every wideout is to haul in that coveted touchdown pass. That proved to be an elusive target for Stanley. Not only did he enter his senior season without a touchdown catch, he went his sophomore and junior seasons without a single catch of any kind. In the meantime, he had to get over the trauma of a couple of significant drops. He was unable to haul in what would’ve been a long touchdown throw from quarterback Jacob Eason against Ole Miss in 2016. Later that year, he was also wide open and in position to do something great with a relatively short pass against Florida, he dropped.
Stanley finally broke the jinx with a 33-yard TD catch from Eason in the 2017 G-Day Game. But his first sanctioned score came in the third quarter of this past season’s blowout win over Middle Tennessee State. Stanley caught a 9-yard pass from Justin Fields. It was the only reception Stanley would record all season. He finished his career with 3 catches for 32 yards.
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