ATHENS — Deandre Baker might just get the last laugh out of all of this. I truly hope he does.
It was predicted that the Georgia Bulldogs’ highly-decorated cornerback was going to fall in the 2019 NFL draft and fall he did. A good long way, actually. He went from early projections as a Top 10 selection to where he was taken Thursday night — 30th by the New York Giants, or just three spots from being a second-rounder.
But the good news in all this for Baker and his camp was he did, in fact, become a first-rounder; he was, in fact, the first cornerback off the board; and the Giants traded up for the right to select him there. So now Baker is headed to the Big Apple (or at least New Jersey), where he’ll get all the attention and opportunity he deserves, good or bad.
And he stands to make a lot of money in the meantime.
It’s important to understand how NFL money works. Rookie pay declines as the draft progresses. Players selected in the first round generally receive fully guaranteed contracts, with a team option for a fifth year at a higher salary. But late-round selections, like Baker, generally receive less guaranteed money.
Forbes.com estimates that Baker will receive a four-year deal from the Giants worth about $10.5 million, about half of which he will receive as a signing bonus. So Baker should do quite well for himself, regardless of how things go from here.
But having to wait that long to hear his name called was tough on Baker, who was one of 23 players who accepted invitations from the NFL to be part of its elaborate draft show in downtown Nashville last night.
“I just kept faith, I kept praying,” Baker said in a conference call with Giants’ reporters. “I knew somebody was going to give me a chance. The Giants called and they made my day.”
It’s hard to tell whether the pre-draft negativity on Baker cost him real money or whether late first round is just where he would’ve been picked all along. His selection there was roundly praised in the NFL community. And that’s saying something, the way the rest of the Giants’ draft was being ripped to pieces by draft experts and their rabid fan base.
A couple of NFL.com analysts were saying that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin fully intended to take Baker with the 20th pick before they ended up trading it to the Denver Broncos to move up to No. 10. If true, that trade probably cost Baker about $2 million or so.
But, as is always said, it’s not about the first contract in the NFL. It’s about that second one, which determine not only whether one continues to play in the not-for-long league but also whether one is included in the all-important pension plan.
From that standpoint, I don’t have a lot of doubts about Baker hanging around for a while. In every way, he’s the typical, tough South Florida corner who seems to take it as a personal affront that a quarterback tried to throw on him. And by the end of his Georgia career, they certainly didn’t very often.
The 2018 winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 13 games last season and recorded 40 total stops, had two interceptions and 10 pass breakups, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. And, of course, more importantly, he didn’t allow a touchdown and had five interceptions in his last 28 college football games.
In a word: “baller.”
The Giants recognized that and made significant moves to choose Baker — ahead of LSU’s Greedy Williams, I might add.
“The thing that impressed us most on his tape was how stinkin’ competitive he is,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s very confident and he’s very competitive. I think when he’s faced with a challenge of a good wideout, he’s going to accept the challenge.”
Baker carried his moxie into his post-draft interviews. Asked by the Giant’s infamously-cynical press why he didn’t have more interceptions during his Georgia career, Baker harrumphed.
“It’s hard to get interceptions when you are not targeted much,” he cracked.
Yeah, Baker’s going to be just fine. And the Bulldogs are going to be, too.
Baker’s selection gives Georgia yet another strong pitch for the recruiting trail. The Bulldogs have had at least one first-round draft pick in four of the last five years, including four in the last four years, and extend their streak of having a player selected to 27 consecutive years.
Meanwhile, like the New England Patriots have done in recent years, the Giants seem to be increasingly focusing on UGA for talent. This marks the second year that the Giants have picked a Georgia player after selecting outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter in the third round in 2018. New York has now selected 11 Bulldogs since 1944, the last first-rounder being tailback Rodney Hampton.
At least nine other Bulldogs are expected to go as the second and third rounds resume tonight and the fourth through seventh on Saturday. But there was little doubt that Baker would be the first off the board. And now the 5-foot-11 defensive back is ready to quiet all the doubters.
“It was a dream come true,” Baker said of becoming a first-round NFL draft choice. “I just want to come in and work. Wherever I land at on the depth chart, I’m ready to work. Go out there and compete with the guys and hopefully get a chance to help my team.”