ATHENS — The 2021 NFL Draft has finally arrived for what could be a record-breaking class of Georgia football professional prospects.
The breakdown and highlight footage of each first-round player brings pride to the college fan and excitement to the NFL fan whose team will soon benefit.
Georgia produced two of the most interesting stories in last year’s NFL draft, for better and for worse.
Isaiah Wilson, selected No. 29 overall, became one of the biggest NFL draft busts in recent history with his off-field antics leading to him getting cut by not one, but two teams since the 2020 draft day.
Tae Crowder, meanwhile, wore the so-called “Mr. Irrelevant” title as the last player (255th) selected in the NFL draft. Crowder, however, became a key contributor with six starts in the 11 games he played with 57 tackles and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
There will be more storylines in this NFL draft as well, and Georgia players might find themselves in the middle of them, too.
Here are a few Georgia football storylines to consider entering this year’s draft:
Would Justin Fields have been better off at Georgia?
Some might suggest the answer is “no” because Fields led Ohio State into the national championship game last season.
But when one considers UGA led eventual national-champ Alabama 24-20 at halftime in Tuscaloosa with a former walk-on quarterback, it’s not a stretch to think maybe Georgia wins that game if it’s Fields under center.
For that matter, in the Bulldogs’ only other loss of the season, they were leading Florida 14-0 when the starting quarterback suffered a sprained shoulder.
It’s an interesting thought in light of the fact Fields” NFL stock has seemingly been falling off from where he was first projected.
One NFL analyst saying he heard there were questions with Fields’ work ethic.
RELATED: Kirk Herbstreit goes after ESPN colleague for being critical of Fields
Those questions didn’t come from Fields’ time at Georgia. Kirby Smart offered nothing but glowing praise during Fields’ entire tenure with the Bulldogs.
Even after Fields announced he was entering the NCAA transfer portal, Smart allowed him on the bowl trip to the Sugar Bowl.
“He decided he wanted to play in the Sugar Bowl, and I told him ‘absolutely, we want you there,” Smart said after the 2018 season. “Justin is working extremely hard, he’s in the meeting rooms, he’s still rolling with our twos. I’m pleased with his work and demeanor, he has had good reps.”
Smart, who recently shared how Trevor Lawrence’s early playing time at Clemson affected Fields, suggested no one can judge whether it was right or wrong Fields left UGA rather than stay and compete with Jack Fromm in 2019.
“You can’t say it (transfer) hasn’t benefited him, because he got to go to a really good program, and he got to play right away, and he’s played a lot more football because he chose to go there,” Smart said in a December CBS podcast. “So you can’t say that it was wrong or right. But I would say what you said earlier, the accountability factor and guys sticking it out, sometimes it pays off to do that.”
Will Georgia set program record for most selected in one draft?
It seemed like a slam dunk at the start of the 2021 NFL Draft process UGA would get more than eight players selected in the NFL draft to break the school mark.
Last year’s undrafted pool included: Rodrigo Blankenship, J.R. Reed, Lawrence Cager, Eli Wolf, Tyler Clark and Tyrique McGhee, all of whom found their way onto NFL rosters as free agents. Others who went undrafted in 2020 were not as fortunate.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, former team captains Elijah Holyfield and Jonathan Ledbetter went undrafted, along with Natrez Patrick, and all three made NFL teams as free agents.
A recent mock draft from NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter threatens that storyline. Reuter projects only six Georgia players being picked — and five very familiar names being left out: Malik Herring, Richard LeCounte, DJ Daniel, Mark Webb, Trey Hill.
Will Kirby Smart keep his first-round pick streak alive?
Many of the mock drafts have projected Azeez Ojulari will be selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Ojulari, the Bulldogs’ sacks leader, might even be picked in the first half of the first round.
But there’s also a chance Ojulari could slip out of the first round, which would threaten Georgia’s string of three straight years of produce a first-round NFL draft pick.
Cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell have been widely projected as second-round picks, but might one slip into the first round?
Stokes, with his 4.25-second time in the 40-yard dash and high ceiling, is particularly intriguing and might offer enough for a team to reach in the first round.