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The three Georgia Bulldogs that could land with the Atlanta Falcons
The 2019 NFL Draft is here. The first round will begin on Thursday and take place in Nashville, Tenn. As many as eight former Georgia Bulldogs are expected to be drafted over the course of the three-day event.
We’ve written in the past about the pipeline of players who have gone from Georgia to New England. But today we’re going to focus on a different franchise, the Atlanta Falcons. While a lot more UGA fans would love to see the likes of Mecole Hardman or Isaac Nauta end up playing for the local team, Atlanta has very little recent history of drafting Georgia players.
The last time the Falcons selected a player from the University of Georgia was back in 2011 when Atlanta used a third-round pick on linebacker Akeem Dent. He is the only Georgia player in the last 10 NFL drafts that Atlanta has selected. In that same time span, the Falcons have drafted multiple players from the likes of Minnesota and San Jose State.
Atlanta has nine picks in this year’s draft. Below, we look at the three Georgia players who could best fill Atlanta’s current needs and end up becoming Falcons by the time the draft is over.
Deandre Baker, cornerback
The Falcons will likely only have one shot at drafting Baker, as the defensive back is expected to go in either the late first or early second round of the draft. Cornerback is one of Atlanta’s biggest needs, likely only behind defensive tackle.
In the event that Houston’s Ed Oliver and Clemson’s Chrisitan Wilkins are off the board when Atlanta picks first at No. 14, the Falcons could pivot to look at one of the many cornerbacks in the draft. Given Baker’s excellent college work — he won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football’s top defensive back — it’s easy to envision Atlanta taking him, even if it is a bit of reach at 14.
Baker is competing with the likes of LSU’s Greedy Williams, Washington’s Byron Murphy and Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin to be the first cornerback off the board.
Atlanta General Manager Thomas Dimitroff was on hand at Georgia’s pro day and did comment on Baker after his work out.
“He’s obviously quick, fast, explosive,” Dimitroff said. “He can run, cover the field. He has very good range that way. He’s being reported as one of the best in the country in the draft.”
Atlanta has taken a defensive back under Dimitroff before, as the Falcons took Desmond Trufant in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Atlanta also took safety Keanu Neal in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. If Baker were to go in the first round, he’d be the first Georgia cornerback drafted in the first round since the Washington Redskins took Champ Bailey in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft.
D’Andre Walker, edge rusher
Walker had a good senior season for Georgia as he led the team in sacks. He played perhaps the best game of his career against Alabama in the SEC championship game. But Walker picked up an injury in the fourth quarter of that game, and Georgia wasn’t the same team once he exited the game.
The injury he sustained in that game caused Walker to miss the Senior Bowl and the drills portion of the NFL combine. Walker was able to finally work out for teams earlier this month, as he had recovered enough from his sports hernia surgery.
Atlanta doesn’t have an obvious need at the defensive end/outside linebacker position. But it could a year from now. Former first-round pick Vic Beasley is entering the final year of his rookie deal and the team could part ways with him following the 2019 season. Atlanta also saw Bruce Irvin sign with the Carolina Panthers this offseason as well.
Walker is expected to go in either the third or fourth round. It could make sense for the Falcons to grab him this year as a replacement for Irvin and then groom Walker to take on a bigger role should the team part with Beasley.
Elijah Holyfield, running back
Holyfield hasn’t helped his draft stock much this spring. He ran a 4.78 40-yard dash at the combine, and didn’t do much better at his pro day. But like Baker, his game tape is a better selling point than his measurables. Holyfield ran for over 1,000 yards last season, and ESPN’s Todd McShay has called Holyfield the best pass blocking running back in the draft.
While he might not go high, those last two points alone should at least merit using a late-round pick on the Georgia running back. The Falcons saw running back Tevin Coleman depart from the team in free agency, though 2018 draft pick Ito Smith is expected to take over his role. Atlanta also has Devonta Freeman in the backfield as well.
But it’s easy to envision Atlanta picking up Holyfield with one of their later round picks and using him as a short yardage back. Holyfield also grew up in Atlanta as he attended Woodward Academy. If the Falcons were to select Holyfield, he would be the first Georgia running back taken by Atlanta since it selected Thomas Brown in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
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