Georgia football-NFL Draft-Speed and potential make Mecole Hardman a valuable NFL commodity-Georgia Bulldogs
Mecole Hardman figures to be one of the top Georgia football players taken in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Projecting the best fits for the Georgia football players in the 2019 NFL Draft

The 2019 NFL Draft is fast approaching, as the event will take place on April 25 and end on April 27. At that point, a number of former Georgia football players will have new homes.

Just one player, cornerback Deandre Baker, is expected to go in the first round of the draft. But plenty of members of the 2018 Georgia football team should hear their names called during the three-day event.

Below, we’ve given our best guess as to where some of Georgia’s 2019 NFL Draft hopefuls will land and when they could get selected:

Deandre Baker: First round, pick 26 to the Indianapolis Colts

Baker will almost certainly go at some point late in the first round. The earliest he could come off the board would be at pick 20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. There isn’t a lot separating this year’s top cornerbacks, so a lot of it will come down to team preference between Baker, Washington’s Byron Murphy, LSU’s Greedy Williams and Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin.

We think the Colts make a lot of sense for Baker, in part because Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard has shown an affinity to Georgia players in his time with the Chiefs. Other landing spots for Baker include No. 25 to the Eagles, No. 27 to the Oakland Raiders and No. 29 to the Chiefs.

Mecole Hardman: Third round, pick 70 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Hardman has done about all he can to improve his draft stock since bypassing his senior year at Georgia. He ran a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash time at this year’s NFL combine.

Compared to some of the other top pass catchers in this year’s NFL draft, Hardman is relatively inexperienced. He’s only been a full-time wide receiver for just two seasons. But he’s also flashed real ability as a kick and punt returner, which should add to his value at the next level.

Related: Mecole Hardman: ‘I can be that guy’ to replace Steelers’ Antonio Brown

As for fit, Hardman could come off the board at some point in the second round if a team thinks that he can really continue to grow as a pass catcher at the next level. We think Tampa Bay would be a good fit, given that it lost Desean Jackson and Adam Humphries in free agency. Hardman could be the burner wide receiver that would thrive in Bruce Arians’ vertical passing offense. Other landing spots for Hardman are New England (pick 56, 64 or 73), Pittsburgh (pick 66) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (pick 69).

Riley Ridley: Third round, pick 85 to the Baltimore Ravens

Ridley’s draft value is all over the place. Some think he could go early in the second round based on his impressive performances against Alabama, LSU and Texas in college. But his lack of college production combined with his poor testing numbers at the NFL combine have some down on the Georgia wide receiver.

Related: Georgia WR Riley Ridley first-round pick after NFL workouts?

His best skill by far was ability to get open against great coverage at the college level. The problem with that is it’s not an easy skill to project to the next level. We think a wide receiver needy team, like the Ravens, could use a player like Ridley to help be a nice second option to a young quarterback. Like Hardman, New England makes sense as a possible landing spot for Ridley given its need at wide receiver, in addition to Dallas at pick No. 90 in the third round.

D’Andre Walker:  Fourth round, pick 134 to the New England Patriots

Walker hasn’t had to showcase his skills during the pre-draft process as he’s recovering from sports hernia surgery. The outside linebacker led Georgia in sacks last season with 7.5, and seemed like the only player on Georgia’s roster who could generate a consistent pass rush in 2018.

New England makes a lot of sense for Walker. Bill Belichick, who was at Georgia’s Pro Day once again, has shown an affinity for Georgia players in recent years. And with Trey Flowers leaving in free agency, Walker could potentially fill that role. Other spots for Walker include Baltimore at pick 124, Indianapolis at pick 129 and the Los Angeles Rams at pick 133.

Isaac Nauta: Fifth round, pick 147 to the Buffalo Bills

Nauta didn’t have a great combine, as he ran a 4.91 40 in Indianapolis. But he’s showed very good production in his final year at Georgia, and often played well against strong competition.

Buffalo has a need at tight end, as it hopes to surround quarterback Josh Allen with more talent. At this point in the draft, obviously teams could already have drafted a tight end like Noah Fant of Iowa or Irv Smith of Alabama. Other teams that could take a look at Nauta include the Dallas Cowboys at pick 136 and the Cincinnati Bengals at pick 149.

Lamont Gaillard: Fifth round, pick 169 to the Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have a need at center with the team moving on from John Sullivan. Gaillard isn’t the biggest offensive lineman, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, but he was a multi-year starter at Georgia.

If Gaillard plays for a team that believes he can be their starting center, like New England did when it scooped up David Andrews as an undrafted free agent. Gaillard could go undrafted given that he really only projects as a center at the next level, but teams that want to improve their offensive lines like the Bills and Bengals make sense for his services.

Jonathan Ledbetter: Sixth round, pick 176 to the San Francisco 49ers

Ledbetter was a very consistent player for Georgia, even if his statistics were never spectacular. Ledbetter may not be a star at the next level, but if he finds the right team coming of the draft, he’ll have a good chance to stick around in the league for a while.

He projects as a 3-4 defensive end at the next level, so look for him to go to a team like San Francisco, Baltimore or Denver for Ledbetter.

Elijah Holyfield: Seventh round, pick 218 to the Oakland Raiders

Holyfield had a great junior season at Georgia, as he ran for 1,018 yards for the Bulldogs. But he ran a 4.81 at the combine and has really hurt his stock.

Holyfield was never going to light up the workouts. But he should still hear his name called on draft day given what he was able to at Georgia last year.

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