Towers’ Take: Dawgs strive to uphold NFL draft tradition
ATHENS – They were all there, all the NFL scouts and executives that usually are there at Georgia for Pro Day. In fact, it seemed that the Atlanta Falcons, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, were particularly well represented. What was missing, however, was the usual bountiful crop of prospects that usually populate this annual exercise for the Bulldogs.
In all, 15 UGA players – including one recently-banished Bulldog – worked out for scouts in the sparklingly new Indoor Practice Facility at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex. But of that group, there might be only two or three that have a realistic shot of getting drafted in late April. If no one from Georgia is chosen, it will be the first time in 25 years the Bulldogs were blanked in the draft. The last time no Dogs were picked was 1992, and one has to go back to 1941 before that.
Indeed, Georgia has one of the richest NFL traditions of all the programs the country. That’s why all 32 teams were represented Saturday, and more than a few former players who are now earning NFL checks crowded the sidelines to watch.
“You always know there’s going to be at least a couple of Georgia guys drafted and that’s something I take pride in,” said Jordan Jenkins, who played for the New York Jets last season after getting drafted in the third round. “No matter what round you get drafted in, that’s something not a lot of guys get to go through. Some schools, they might only get one guy every 10 years or something. That’s a great feat for Georgia. And I have faith this year. I think we’re going to keep that streak going. Somebody will sneak in there.”
If you want to analyze what went wrong with the Bulldogs this past season, in which they finished 8-5 and were relegated to the Liberty Bowl, look no further than talent getting evaluated under the artificial light of the IAF on Wednesday morning. Both of Georgia’s starting offensive tackles – Tyler Catalina and Greg Pyke — were working out, but each projects as a guard on the next level. Isaiah McKenzie is a dynamic return specialist but he is tiny and had academic troubles. Alabama transfer Maurice “Mo” Smith might be likeliest to command a call on draft weekend
Of course, getting drafted is not the end-all as far as determining success. David Andrews and his recently-acquired Super Bowl championship ring stood on the sidelines Wednesday as proof of that. Andrews was undrafted but went to the New England Patriots as a free agent and started the last two years.
“(Georgia’s) got a good draft history as far as number of NFL active players,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who has witnessed this trend from Alabama as well. “Every team always wants to know that stat because it changes so much from year-to-year. But Georgia’s got a great history of putting guys in the NFL, even undrafted guys. Seeing David (Andrews) back here today and the history he’s had, it helps.
“We market that part, but they want to know about education and playing time, too. They all feel like they can make it to the NFL from everywhere. But the better you are at putting them out helps.”
You could see this coming for Georgia. Last year, the Bulldogs sent eight players to the NFL Combine. This year, McKenzie was their only representative. Last year, Georgia had five players drafted, including linebacker Leonard Floyd with the ninth pick of the first round. This year, it can only hope to match the two that went in 2014, when Aaron Murray and Arthur Lynch both went in the fifth round.
Usually, the Bulldogs go by the bunches, and many in the early rounds. Eight were drafted in 2013 and 2002 and seven got calls in ’03, ’06 and ’12. There have been dozens of first-rounders, including first picks overall in Matthew Stafford and Charley Trippi.
“UGA just breeds greatness,” said Quincy Mauger, who just finished his career as a four-year starter at safety. “History shows it. Just look at the guys that are in and out of the NFL right now, and in the CFL. You know, we take pride in the Georgia way on and off the field and we try to continue to make these coaches and this fan base proud.”
They have. And, of course, it should be a little better pickings at next year’s Pro Day. Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who many expected would be showing out in this event this year, will be attending next year’s instead. That, for the Bulldogs, is a good thing.