ATHENS — The 2019 NFL Draft marked the beginning of the “Kirby Zone,” with the first of Coach Kirby Smart’s recruits entering into the professional ranks as underclassmen.
RELATED: Rookie salaries for drafted Georgia players
While next year’s 2020 NFL Draft class will be more bountiful — perhaps, much more so — it’s worth a look back at the 2019 NFL Draft with these takeaways:
The Combine mattered
The next time someone tells you the 40-yard dash times at the combine are overrated, it’s worth considering the plight of undrafted UGA players Elijah Holyfield (4.78 seconds) and Jonathan Ledbetter (5.14).
For that matter, Isaac Nauta (4.91) and Riley Ridley (4.58) saw their stock adversely affected by their 40 times.
Look even closer, and you’ll see those players’ vertical jumps were below standard at their respective positions and triggered a concern for explosiveness: Holyfield (29.5 inches), Ledbetter (26.5) Nauta (28) and Ridley (30.5)
The SEC once again led all leagues in NFL draft picks with 63 of the 254 players selected. The Big Ten had 40, the Pac-12 had 33, the ACC had 27 and the Big 12 had 25.
Alabama led the way in the SEC with 10 players picked, while Georgia and Texas A&M had seven each. The Tide’s picks represented 15.8 percent of the players selected from the league.
Oklahoma had eight of the 10-team Big 12’s 25 picks (40 percent)
Washington had eight of the 12-team Pac 12’s 33 picks (24 percent)
Ohio State had nine of the 14-member Big Ten’s 40 picks (22.5 percent)
Clemson had six of the 14-member ACC’s 27 picks (22 percent).
Deandre Baker figures to have made himself an extra $5 million by returning for his senior season, and it could have been more with a faster 40 time (4.52 seconds).
That doesn’t necessarily mean Holyfield and Nauta should have returned, because their situations were different in terms of their athleticism and production being capped.
Mecole Hardman enters into an ideal situation with the Kansas City Chiefs as a second-round pick, but he might have gone even higher with another season in school.
The only UGA player that, in hindsight, can safely be second-guess for not returning is receiver Riley Ridley, who dropped to the fourth round. Another season as the No. 1 receiver — and a faster 40 time — could have made Ridley a first-round pick.
DawgNation 2019 NFL Draft coverage
Holyfield and Ledbetter among UGA free-agent signees
Rashad Baker goes 30th overall to the New York Giants
Kansas City Chiefs grab Mecole Hardman in second round
Riley Ridley fourth-round pick of Chicago Bears