Closer look: ESPN draft rankings love Jalen Carter and Arik Gilbert, snub Stetson Bennett
ATHENS — The 2022 NFL Draft process was a four-month commercial for Georgia, sending the message that Kirby Smart and his staff can choose and develop talent.
The phrase “record-15 NFL draft picks” has become cliche among Bulldogs’ fans, even though it carries more weight with many recruits than the program’s CFP Championship Game win.
Georgia ranks among the national championship contenders again, and again, that’s because of the elite talent on the roster.
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Buried in the midst of preseason camp reports, ESPN NFL draft expert shed light on who the professional scouts feel are the most talented players among the draft eligible (completing third year of college players.
Some of the Georgia names on the list are more surprising and telling than others, as the NFL talent evaluations do not play favorites or rely on cherry-picked metrics.
Here are the Georgia players in the Top 50, per the ESPN pay-site article — Alabama linebacker Will Anderson is No. 1 overall — and takeaway on each:
No. 2 Jalen Carter
McShay: “He fires off the ball with an explosive first step, and he shows very good torso flexibility and excellent strength to advance his pass rush while engaged. He has every tool in the box necessary to emerge as a top-tier NFL pass-rusher early in his career.”
Griffith: Smart has talked about how much Carter has matured, which will lead him to the next step of being a first-round selection. Part of that maturity, Smart indicated, is having a better understanding of the importance of practice effort. Carter is more athletic than 2022 first-rounders Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt.
No. 5 Nolan Smith
McShay: “Smith has very good closing burst to the quarterback and quick hands, but he is still very unpolished with his pass-rush moves. He frequently lacks a plan and tries to win solely with his outstanding speed, though he does have an effective outside-in move and is able to occasionally get offensive tackles off-balance with stop-start moves.”
Griffith: Smith’s relative lack of size could keep him out of the top half of the first round of the NFL draft, but his talent and physique are undeniable. Smith is a vocal leader who must continue to work on his technique to grow into the type of player that can have an immediate impact at the next level, like Azeez Ojulari.
No. 12 Kelee Ringo
McShay: “Ringo has solid ball skills and the elite length to bat down passes when reaching around receivers. Last season, he hauled in two interceptions and allowed just 37% of opponent completions while in coverage (13th-best in the nation). In run support, he keeps blockers off his frame and lassos ball carriers in space.”
Griffith: Ringo’s film from the 2021 season doesn’t warrant a first-round pick, but when he takes the field at the NFL combine league coaches and scouts will be drooling. How many 6-foot-2, 205-pound corners can run a sub-4.4 40 and approach 40 inches in the vertical? On the field, Ringo is a work in progress, but UGA’s hiring of Fran Brown should equate to great improvement.
No. 16 Arik Gilbert
McShay: “He’s smooth and sudden, but he’s a raw route runner who relies purely on his great size and speed to separate. He does a great job of high-pointing the ball and securing it in traffic, and he shows impressive body control to adjust to passes outside of his frame -- though he has too many drops.”
Griffith: Smart recently said he’s more concerned with Gilbert being “comfortable” off the field, which might seem to indicate this young player is still adjusting to the energy level and focus level demanded at Georgia. Once Gilbert clears this mental hurdle, his potential in the NFL is limitless, to the extent 16th in the first round would be too low. Incredible talent whose mental toughness is growing.
No. 33 Kenny McIntosh
McShay: “McIntosh has a compact running style, running low to the ground with good lower-body flexibility. He is quick with a really good center of gravity, and while he is not overpowering, he also doesn’t go down easily. McIntosh is really smooth stringing together multiple cuts and frequently makes the first defender miss, but ball security has been a slight issue.”
Griffith: McIntosh has been the most skilled running back on the team the past two seasons but was buried behind Zamir White. McIntosh has elite vision and cutback ability, and his receiver abilities out of the backfield are among the best in college football. McIntosh could prove to be the second All-SEC back Dell McGee has recruited in his seven years at UGA, the other, D’Andre Swift.
No. 38 Sedrick Van Pran
McShay: “In pass pro, Van Pran is still developing after 15 starts in 2021. He is strong against power rushers, showing the core strength and lower-body flexibility to sink his hips and stalemate. But his hand placement tends to be too wide, which impacts his ability to latch on and generate torque.”
Griffith: Sedrick Van Pran is a prime example of the businesslike approach that Smart wants in his program, putting in his time before seizing the moment when incumbent center Warren Ericson suffered a broken bone in his hand in last year’s fall camp. A team leader, and a player with intangibles, Van Pran has the look of a long-time NFL veteran.
McShay also broke out his position rankings:
It must be noted Stetson Bennett is not among the NFL’s Top 24 QB prospects per McShay, even though Georgia runs an NFL-style offense. Bryce Young is No. 2 — an indicator there’s more to it than Bennett’s size. Bennett is working to throw from the pocket more consistently and make the second-level throws outside the numbers. Bennett has the supporting cast to flip the script and open NFL eyes this season.
Kenny McIntosh has arguably been the most underrated talent among UGA skill position players the past two seasons. He ranks No. 3 behind Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs — notable, when one sees former 5-star prospect Zach Evans (No. 6), SEC workhorse Chris Rodriguez (No. 7) and Auburn’s Tank Bigsby (No. 9) behind him. If Kendall Milton stays healthy, he will be a Top 10 back and could elect to go pro after this season.
Kearis Jackson makes the list in the 21st and final spot, but the veteran will need a healthy season to cash in on his ability as he has been slowed by knee and ankle injuries the past two seasons. Jackson’s abilities as a return man and special teams player assure he will be in an NFL camp, but he’ll need to elevate his production to be drafted the first two days. Hard not to notice former UGA receiver Jermaine Burton at No. 4 among the NFL’s favorite wideouts.
Arik Gilbert is No. 2 and Darnell Washington is No. 5, and they aren’t even the most productive tight ends at UGA — sophomore Brock Bowers is not yet draft eligible. Gilbert could skyrocket into the Top 10 with a big season, while Washington is more of a conventional tight end with his blocking abilities. Both players could be starting for an NFL team at this time next season.
Georgia left tackle Broderick Jones is ranked No. 5 at the position, but there’s a good chance he will be in the Top 2-3 by the end of the season as his run blocking and physicality have improved greatly. Surprising not to see right tackle Warren McClendon among the Top 15, but a good combine would change that.
Georgia does not have any players among the Top 13 that are listed, but that’s more a matter of the lack of body of work the draft-eligible players have. Xavier Truss and Devin Willock have NFL size and athleticism but are polishing their skill sets and should emerge on scouts’ radar sooner than later.
Sedrick Van Pran ranks No. 2 on the list, but he’s not the sort of player who will let it go to his head. Van Pran is very solid and consistent on the field, and off it, he has grown into one of the better spokesmen and ambassadors that UGA football has.
Georgia does not have a player among the Top 12 listed, but that may have to do with how dominant No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker was at this position last season. Senior Tramel Walthour is the next man up, but he’ll have his hands full holding the position with talented underclassmen pushing him. NFL scouts will be watching.
NFL scouts know all about Jalen Carter, but my, does junior Zion Logue ever have a surprise in store for them. Logue looks ready to pounce on his opportunity for quality reps, and if spring drills were any sort of indication, he will crack the Top 10 of NFL scouts’ defensive tackle list.
Nolan Smith is rated No. 2 behind former Georgia high school star Will Anderson, but it is a bit surprising not to see Robert Beal among the Top 13 evaluated. Former Bulldog Brenton Cox is No. 7 on the list, and Georgia Tech has a player (Charlie Thomas) mentioned among the best.
Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean and first-round pick Quay Walker have moved on from this position, likewise for Channing Tindall who didn’t even start but was drafted in the third round. The talent in the room is mostly young, but junior Trezmen Marshall is working to make a name for himself.
Kelee Ringo leads the list and will work to improve those deep ball cover skills, as he has been noted as not having the most fluid hips. Ringo’s great speed and athleticism often make up for it against college talent, but the NFL is a different level. Former UGA player Tyrique Stevenson checked in at No. 4 among the cornerbacks.
Christoper Smith is criminally underrated at the No. 14 and final position among ESPN’s NFL safety ratings. Smith has gotten better and better, working to build more of an NFL body to go with his elite playmaking and tackling abates. Smith is the most underrated player on the UGA defense. Former Bulldog Latavious Brini, now at Arkansas, is ranked 13th.