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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during Georgia’s 2021 NFL Pro Day inside the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Photo by Rob Davis)

Kirby Smart bluntly sums up why the NFL draft is so important for Georgia football

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Why the 2021 NFL Draft is crucial for Georgia football

Kirby Smart knows that recruits don’t care all that much about facilities. Academics and game-day atmospheres for the most part aren’t why Georgia lands elite prospects.

Nor does the ability to play in the College Football Playoff really make the difference between getting the best prospects in the country.

At the end of the day, they want to play for the programs that give them the best shot at being taken high in the NFL draft.

They go to schools like Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State for nights like Thursday.

“They’re concerned about themselves and being able to be successful at the next level,” Smart said while appearing on the Paul Finebaum show on Wednesday. “They’re not asking about the CFP. Most kids will tell you if they come to your school, you’ll have a better chance of making the CFP. To be honest that is usually a self-centered, selfish conversation.”

To this point in Smart’s tenure at Georgia, he’s done a capable job of developing players into first-round picks. The Bulldogs have had six players taken in the first round in the past three drafts. Nick Chubb and D’Andre Swift were both taken with the No. 35 pick in their respective drafts as well.

Thursday night, a handful of Georgia prospects have the potential to join them. Azeez Ojulari, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes all have the possibility of hearing their names called among the first 32 selections of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Ojulari seems like the safest bet to go in the first round. He might not have the physical measurements that other top edge rushers have, but he’s produced at a high level for multiple seasons and has the leadership and character qualities teams value.

Campbell and Stokes are fringe first-rounders, but they have been mentioned as possible first-round selections. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL slotted Campbell to the New Orleans Saints with the No. 28 overall pick in his final mock draft. Stokes had better statistical production at Georgia and put down a better 40-yard dash time.

Related: Tyson Campbell: What you need to know about the 2021 NFL Draft prospect

The Bulldogs and Smart should hope all three hear their name called on Thursday. Because the top prospects of tomorrow will absolutely be taking note.

This crop of Bulldogs also has the added attachment of being recruited and developed fully by Smart in his time at Georgia. This is the first time that as a head coach Smart has been able to say that.

“That group is special to me, because they’ve all come at different times, but they’re all leaving together,” Smart told reporters back in March. “They’re all ours. I’m proud of them. I’m excited for all those guys.”

Heading into his sixth season as Georgia’s head coach, Smart can’t exactly sell early playing time like he did to Campbell when he signed as a member of the 2018 recruiting class. The Bulldogs also can’t sell being the new, up-and-coming program either, as the Bulldogs are three years removed from their first and only College Football Playoff appearance.

Related: Kirby Smart calls possible playoff expansion ‘a good thing’

Instead, the Bulldogs are going to have to continue to turn out high draft picks. Alabama is going to have at least five and possibly even six players get taken in the first round on Thursday. That’s a huge reason why Alabama continues to sign top recruiting classes, as the Crimson Tide signed the No. 1 overall class in the 2021 recruiting cycle.

That is the standard that Georgia is attempting to match. It’s not just enough to catch and beat Alabama on the field, something the Bulldogs have not done since 2007. Georgia is also chasing the Crimson Tide when it comes to draft.

Georgia should be one of the best-represented teams in the draft, with as many as 11 players possibly hearing their names called. But turning 4- and 5-star recruits into fifth-round draft picks is exactly a great selling point to potential recruits.

If you want to look at the relationship between recruiting and the draft look at the running back position for Georgia. The Bulldogs have a lengthy list of NFL running backs, especially in recent seasons. That’s a huge reason why Dell McGee is able to land commitments from California running back Kendall Milton or North Carolina running back Zamir White.

Ojulari hearing his name on Thursday should help with outside linebacker recruiting. The same with Campbell and Stokes could apply to the cornerback position. Even along the offensive line, the Bulldogs have had three first-round draft picks in the past three seasons at that spot. That partially explains why Georgia is able to keep landing prospects like 5-star 2021 signee Amarius Mims.