ATHENS — Georgia football program stock is as high as it has been since Kirby Smart’s run to the College Football Playoff Championship Game in 2017 on the heels of a blockbuster 2021 NFL Draft class.
The Bulldogs set a program record with nine players drafted — and it would have been more had undrafted free agents Malik Herring and DJ Daniel not had injuries play a role in their draft stock
Smart developed a first-round NFL pick for the fourth straight year in the form of one-time 3-star prospect Eric Stokes. The Bulldogs would have had two first-rounders concerns about Azeez Ojulari’s 3-year old knee injury hadn’t dropped the SEC”s sacks and TFLs leader to the second round.
Here’s a look at which Georgia football players stock is up after the NFL draft and whose stock stayed even. There is virtually no stock down when you get an opportunity to play in the NFL, which all of the outgoing 11 Bulldogs’ players will get, albeit, some as lower picks than they would have been with another season.
Eric Stokes: Green Bay took note of Stokes’ character as much as his speed and explosiveness, showing that good guys do finish first sometimes. Stokes is a great example of UGA developing players, as he was the lowest-rated player in the Bulldogs’ 2017 signing class and redshirted. The Packers gained a lot of fans in Georgia with this first-round pick.
Monty Rice: Tennessee thinks so much of Rice it was willing to overlook the nagging foot injury that limited his 2020 season. To boot, the Titans are still recovering from last year’s first-round pick from UGA, who proved one of the biggest draft busts in recent NFL history. Tennessee did its homework and knows the sort of toughness and leadership Rice brings. An added bonus for Rice, he’ll be close to his family in Huntsville.
Tre’ McKitty: San Diego is an ideal landing spot for any receiver or tight end with blooming star QB Justin Herbert. You won’t find many players with six catches their final college season selected in top three rounds, but McKitty showed great upside at the Senior Bowl. McKitty was underutilized at UGA because of the offense’s well-documented limitations in 2020.
Tyson Campbell: Campbell’s size (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) and speed led to a 5-star rating out of high school, and more recently, a selection with the first pick of the second round by Jacksonville. Campbell will need to be more productive in the NFL after having just one interception in 33 games at Georgia. Some believe he’ll wind up at safety, which might not be a bad thing. Campbell flashed greatness in run support and with the ball and play in front of him.
Ben Cleveland: Cleveland went where he was expected to be selected in the third round to an NFL team known for grit and toughness. Baltimore knows what they are getting in the powerful and physical Cleveland, and now it’s up to the Georgia product to bring the intensity and consistency John Harbaugh is expecting. It will take Cleveland’s best to live up to the role he’s expected to fill as a Raven.
Richard LeCounte: Cleveland got an absolute steal in landing LeCounte in the fifth round if he regains his athleticism. The down note is another year at UGA would have enabled the All-SEC safety to get completely healthy and put questions to rest after his puzzling motorcycle crash. LeCounte’s stock is up because he’s headed to a franchise moving in the right direction, and he’ll have former UGA teammate Nick Chubb on-site to provide him with the leadership and guidance most every rookie needs.
D.J. Daniel: Daniel is a soldier who has already overcome a great deal to get to this point of his career. Not getting drafted will only make Daniel more determined, and he’s wisely headed to a Jacksonville franchise with new leadership and an open depth chart. Urban Meyer will recognize and reward Daniel’s toughness. Finally healthy, Daniel will make this team.
Azeez Ojulari: Ojulari is a special player and another Bulldog with great character, and he’s familiar with the “prove it” nature ahead of him after he fell from being a projected first-round pick to becoming a mid-second round selection. Look for Ojulari to prove himself an absolute steal for the N.Y. Giants and see his stock soar by the end of fall camp.
Mark Webb: Webb’s great character and potential got him drafted more so than his production. Mel Kiper Jr. pointed out Webb’s dropped interception against Florida, and McShay noted Webb has one interception in 49 games. Webb will fight to make San Diego as a special teams player while improving his ball skills. Another year at Georgia would have helped Webb develop more and make a lot more money as a second-day pick than seventh-round selection.
Trey Hill: Rated the third-best center in the NFL draft, Hill’s future might be at guard on a Cincinnati line in need of help up front to protect Joe Burrow. That Hill had surgeries on both of his knees late in 2020 dropped his NFL draft stock and made it a puzzling choice for him not to return to Georgia for another year so he could be drafted higher than the sixth round. Hill’s power cannot be questioned, but he’ll need to improve his mobility.
Malik Herring: Herring showed enough talent and potential at the Senior Bowl that NFL teams have noted his upside, including Kansas City. So much of Herring’s future relies on his recovery from ACL surgery. To Herring’s credit, he has shown a tremendous attitude and remained upbeat on social media at a challenging time.