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Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Georgia's Sony Michel (1) and Isaiah Wynn will continue to build on their close relationship as first-round draft picks of the New England Patriots.

Year of the Dog continues with UGA’s traditional presence in NFL draft

Chip Towers

ATHENS, Ga. — Well, that went well, didn’t it?

In case you didn’t stay up until midnight like me watching it, you might not have seen that three Georgia Bulldogs were selected among the first 32 picks that encompass the first round of the NFL draft. That’s a record for the University of Georgia (and most among teams not named Alabama, which had four players taken Thursday night).

And it’s not over. Several more Bulldogs are expected to be drafted Friday night in the second and third rounds, and more still Saturday when the NFL wraps up its annual talent scoop with rounds 4-7. In all, 10 UGA players were invited to the NFL combine and as many as 12 stand to be drafted.

That’s a lot, especially when one takes into account the stat the NCAA floated on Thursday. It said that only 1.6 percent of eligible NCAA football players are selected in the draft each year.

Georgia is doing a little better than that. When Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel were selected on Thursday, they became the 316th, 317th and 318th Bulldogs taken in the draft. Again, that’s a lot.

It’s also nothing new. Though UGA seeks to set a school record this year for number of players taken in a seven-round draft — eight were taken in 2002 and 2013 — the school always has sent a lot of players to the NFL. Since the turn of the century Georgia has produced 18 first-round picks, including Smith, Wynn and Michel.

Last year was an aberration, when the Bulldogs produced only one draft pick in Isaiah McKenzie. But Georgia has had at least one player drafted every year for the last 26 years running. Based on Kirby Smart’s recruiting, I don’t expect that streak to end anytime soon.

Smith’s selection Thursday night drew the most attention, since he went so early. Picked No. 8 by the Chicago Bears, he became Georgia’s earliest selection since wide receiver A.J. Green went No. 4 in 2011. Of course, Matthew Stafford went No. 1 just two years before that, becoming the Bulldogs’ third No. 1 overall selection (Harry Babcock, 1953, and Charley Trippi, 1945, were the others).

I wasn’t surprised to see Michel slip into the first round, going 31st to the New England Patriots. I think we all saw Michel’s tremendous versatility and pro potential, even though he served as Nick Chubb’s understudy most of his career.

The most intriguing pick for me was Wynn, who not only went earlier than I anticipated at 23, but also to the Patriots and apparently as a tackle, no less. That’s the real story: Wynn possibly playing left tackle in the NFL.

Wynn measured 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds at the combine and started at guard his first three seasons with the Bulldogs. But after starting a couple of games the end of his junior season at tackle, Wynn moved to left tackle permanently for his senior season. That ended up being a huge move and had everything to do with Georgia and quarterback Jake Fromm in particular having such a great season. Wynn allowed only 4 sacks all season, and none in the National Championship Game against Alabama.

I haven’t been able to run down Wynn yet to talk to him, but the Florida native was interviewed by reporters on a conference call after the first round was in the books. Every indication from that discussion is that the Patriots intend to play Wynn at tackle.

Wynn, as we have come to expect from his time at Georgia, is unconcerned about where he’ll play in New England.

“I really like any spot on the line,” Wynn said on the call. “Whatever way I can contribute to the team, that’s the best spot for me. I’m pretty confident that the coaching staff is going to put me in the right position where I need to be at.”

Wynn added that he doesn’t believe his non-traditional height for a left tackle would be a detriment to being able to do the job at the professional level.

“I believe my arm length (33 3/8 inches) and my feet and my technique make up for it,” Wynn said.

He’ll get no argument for those of us who watched him the last four years. We can’t forget who Wynn is being paid to protect, either. Wynn hasn’t.

“That’s kind of every lineman’s dream, to have a quarterback like Tom Brady back there,” he said.

When the draft continues I suspect we won’t have to wait long to hear the names of Chubb and Lorenzo Carter. Trent Thompson, Javon Wims, John Atkins, Davin Bellamy, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis and Reggie Carter are there for the taking as well.

Regardless of when the last one finally is selected, it’s clearly going to be a red-letter weekend for Georgia. For that we shouldn’t be surprised. The Chinese calendar told us that 2018 is The Year of the Dog.