Curtis Compton/AJC
Sony Michel, Roquan Smith and Nick Chubb all could be picked early in the NFL draft.

Could this be historic year for Georgia in NFL draft?

Welcome back to the UGA Mailbag, where we invite you, our beloved readers, to ask us wonderful questions about Georgia football, insightful queries about Kirby Smart and his staff, or smart perusals about weighty matters in Georgia athletics. And occasionally we even answer these questions, when we’re not ranking our favorite A Tribe Called Quest songs.

  1. Bonita Applebaum.
  2. Check the Rhyme.
  3. Can I Kick It.
  4. Award Tour.
  5. (Song I don’t think I can name on a family website.)

Now, this doesn’t include songs from other groups on which Q-Tip performed cameos, notably De La Soul’s 1988 hit …

Seth’s editors have interrupted to strongly encourage him to get to the actual Georgia questions. 

OK, fine. Here we go.

How do you think this year’s NFL draft class will rank for UGA (let’s say since the turn of the century)?
– Teddy

First off, I’m showing my age when, every time someone says “turn of the century,” I still think they mean the McKinley administration. Either way, there was Georgia football – but there wasn’t an NFL draft class.

There’s a chance this could be a historic draft for Georgia. The most the program has ever had taken in one was draft is eight: 2013 and 2012. Looking at the 2018 draft, I’d be tempted to take the over:

  • Certain to be drafted: Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Lorenzo Carter.
  • Good bets: Trenton Thompson, Javon Wims, Davin Bellamy.
  • You never know: John Atkins, Cameron Nizialek, Dominick Sanders, Aaron Davis, Reggie Carter.

There are eight who are at least good bets, and if they all get drafted and just one of the others gets plucked, then it’s a record. As far as overall star power – rather than just number of players drafted – as we get closer to the draft, perhaps we can grade past drafts by assigning points per round, and see where this one ends up ranking. It seems we can safely pencil Smith into the first round, then the question is whether Wynn or someone else sneaks in there too, and how many players are selected on the second day (second and third rounds).

At minimum, it’s a reminder that a lot of star power is leaving the Georgia program. And yet …

totally agree with most out there who say that Georgia is losing A LOT of experience this year, and that it’s going to hurt badly. But I just don’t buy the leadership stuff. Really, men that age don’t really understand what leadership is, other than yelling at others when they slack off, or encouraging good behavior (basically being cheerleaders). I think the vast majority of leadership (identifying a player’s strength’s/weaknesses and using that knowledge to get him to do what you want and put him in a position to succeed individually) just comes from coaches, who have to know more than how to yell loudly. That’s why I think Georgia has a really good chance to be really good again next year, barring a an early-season letdown. Thoughts?
– Matt from Brisbane

Leadership is so hard to quantify, so ultimately it’s a guess. I’ve been somebody who rolled his eyes when players and coaches talked about leadership, especially on teams that clearly would have been good if the seniors had blown off practice to go to strip clubs. But this past season I was really swayed by the testimonials from players – namely the younger ones – and coaches.

Isaiah Wilson, for one, talked about how watching Isaiah Wynn, the team’s best offensive lineman, go hard at every practice had a ripple effect. You heard the same thing about Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. When your best players are also your hardest workers, as Wilson put it, that means so much. And midway through the season, when it became obvious what kind of season was on hand, Kirby Smart would be asked about his team handling success and would answer by basically shrugging, saying he wasn’t worried about his players. I also saw a lot of little stuff that convinced me all the leadership talk was legit.

Now that doesn’t mean that the best players on the 2018 team won’t also have those qualities. And maybe a lot of it does spring from the coaches. (Though it was basically the same coaching staff that led the team to an 8-5 record the previous season.)

We’ll have to see. I can’t sit here right now and say it will or won’t be a big positive factor again in 2018. All I do know is that while I don’t expect this team to be as great as it was last season, I look at that schedule and say, “Man, I can’t see that much of a drop-off.”

Just how good do you see Andrew Thomas becoming at LT in the next 2-3 years? He obviously came in well-coached from Pace and more college-ready than our other highly touted freshmen OL, but do you seeing him as a guy who still has plenty of room for improvement and a potential All-American/future 1st round draft pick?
– Hunker Dawg

Well, he did very well as a rookie at right tackle, which is a good sign, and there was no question from the coaches that he would move to left tackle when that job opened, which is another good sign.

I won’t pretend that I can project out a few years and say Thomas will be on the level you’re mentioning. The only reason to wonder about that, and it’s really nitpicking, is if you think the main reason he started right away is he was prepared so well at Pace that he was the one ready to play right away, and might not have the upside that Wilson, Ben Cleveland or one of the incoming freshmen have.

But there’s a maturity factor with Thomas too, in a good way, that should help him continue to develop, and not rest on his laurels, and uh, oh, I’m getting really Pollyanish and positive here, I think it’s time to switch to …

The yearly midseason basketball angst

Weekly basketball question: Does the success of Kirby so quickly for the football program affect the patience that McGarity will have with Mark Fox? How much longer should the fan base patiently wait for sustained success for Fox?
– Lazendaddy

It’s important to start with remembering that, for several reasons, the basketball and football coaching situations are very separate matters. Expectations, history and support for each program, for one, as well as who’s making the decisions.

The football coaching change, going from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart, was an institutional decision, with many voices and powers at work. Athletic director Greg McGarity was the one assigned to tell Richt he was out and appear at the press conferences, but he, sitting alone in his office, was not the one making the decision.

After the 2016 season, Greg McGarity (left) talked about retaining basketball coach Mark Fox. (Randy Schafer/special to DawgNation)

The basketball situation might be more at McGarity’s feet. That doesn’t mean influential boosters or UGA president Jere Morehead might not also be involved. Fox has a lot of support in the administration and those who donate money. But if this season keeps trending in the wrong direction, even they are likely to lose patience, throw up their hands and say, “Fine, Greg, your call.”

Even then, it’s not as easy as just firing a coach who’s been moderately successful and hiring the best candidate you can find. There needs to be a confidence that someone better is definitely out there. The basketball program isn’t a wreck right now. It’s just at the point that the football program was when Richt was let go in 2015, when there was a sense that it had just plateaued and a change might be needed. But is there a Kirby Smart out there for UGA to hire for basketball? And do you trust McGarity, whose hiring record is mixed at best, to make the right hire?

Recruiting is also going well. That has to be taken into account, as would whether a new coach would be willing to retain Jonas Hayes, who’s been killing it on the recruiting trail. (Phillip Pearson also has  recruited well basically during his entire tenure, but he’s been with Fox the entire time, so he might be ready to leave on his own if a change is made.)

One final note of caution: This season isn’t over. Georgia’s résumé is good enough that if it gets even semi-hot, it will make the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs have had a bad week. But things could go back in the right direction very quickly.

Just read, “What to make of the state of the GA basketball team”, and I’m asking myself the same question.  Crushing loss Tuesday night.  I was at the game and the lack of any offensive production (or creativity) was very deflating.  I’ve been a Mark Fox supporter for many years now, but I am starting to have the doubts creep in.  It certainly helps that he’s got a loaded recruiting class for 2019 on the way, but we’ve got enough talent on this team that we shouldn’t put out a performance like the one I saw last night.

My gripe with Fox is the lack of offensive identity, and more so, the lack of creativity when teams take away our number one (and only) option, Maten.  Take the last two games.  We start off great in both games because we play good defense (Fox can hang his hat on that and he does), and run the offense through Maten.  However, when the other team makes a change (full court pressure, denying Maten the ball) we continue to try and force the same game plan and don’t respond with our own counter strategy.  There has to be a plan B.  Watching us play offense in the second half of both games makes me fell like I’m taking crazy pills!  Am I missing something?  How does a coach let 4 guys stand around watching the ball while Maten battles to get open only to throw up a desperation shot because we wasted the entire shot clock waiting on Maten to get open?  The blueprint is out there on how to beat UGA.  Full court pressure and put as many bodies on Maten as it takes to keep the ball out of his hands equals easy win.

Thanks and go Dawgs!
– David

Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a question. I think you summed up a lot of what I’ve been hearing the last couple of days, so I figured I’d get out of the way and let you have the floor.

Back to football for a minute

What are your thoughts on Matt Landers? Is he a real contender to replace Javon Wims or was the buzz surrounding him simply a case of coaches showing some love for the scout teamers?
– OliverLadd

I’d be surprised if he stepped into Javon Wims’ role as soon as this year. Riley Ridley slots into that spot right away. Landers will need to continue to develop to have a big role down the road. This year I see him in that next tier of receivers – after Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin – fighting to be in the mix for playing time.

And finally …

Why did @UGAAthletics pay (waste) $42k to a search firm to tell them to hire Kirby Smart when the deal was already done via back channels.
– Russell Sauve

Well, this message appeared to take two years to arrive, but I’ll attempt to answer it anyway. Perhaps it was the minimum retainer required for the search firm, which arranged the official back-channel discussions. There’s a certain amount of track-covering that has to go on in all these searches.

But seriously, we’re still talking about two years ago? I mean back then the Georgia basketball team, coached by Mark Fox and led by Yante Maten, had 7 losses and was in trouble of not making the NCAA Tournament and fans were calling for changes. OK, well, never mind.