ATLANTA — Georgia has gotten a lot of love this week during all the Super Bowl lead-up. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and several Super Bowl players have lauded the Bulldogs’ football program and Kirby Smart specifically for his football acumen and training methods. And, of course, the mere presence of Todd Gurley and Sony Michel as the premier backs for the respective participant teams — plus Nick Chubb’s heavy involvement in pregame press this week — is a walking billboard for UGA’s rep as Running Back University (RBU).
As good as all that is for Georgia’s brand, it’s really not the platform of this year’s Super Bowl that will allow the Bulldogs to recruit on an elite level. The school’s overall presence and regular impact in the NFL has been taking care of that for a while.
My old friend David Ching drills down effectively on that point in a recent article he did for Forbes magazine. Alabama has the strongest reputation for regularly placing players in the league, and deservedly so. Ching reports that seven of Bama’s alums are among the 10 highest-paid players at their position. Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones tops the list at $12.9 million.
But Georgia is not far off at all. It has just one less at six.
And Ching points out another financial stat that might even trump the Crimson Tide in terms of validation for producing elite professional talent. That is, no school has more alums among the NFL’s highest earners than the Bulldogs. UGA produced four of the league’s top 50 salaries in 2018: No. 2-ranked Matthew Stafford, who made $26.5 million in 2018 as quarterback of the Detroit Lions; No. 15 Justin Houston, defensive end of the Kansas City Chiefs and the highest-paid non-quarterback on the list at $20.6 million; No. 33 Geno Atkins, who made $15.1 million as a defensive tackle in Cincinnati; and No. 45, wide receiver A.J. Green, also of the Bengals ($13.8 million).
That’s a lot of jack from just four alums — $76 million, in fact.
I know UGA’s Terry College of Business produces a lot of impressive talent year after year, but I’m guessing its graduates aren’t pulling down quite that much cash within a decade of leaving a school. That’s at least one factoid Georgia has over Alabama, which did not have a player in the top 50 in salary this season. Believe it or not, Jones’ salary came in “only” at 56th. Then again, the Tide had an alum among the NFL’s top 10 highest-paid players at five different positions.
Which brings us back to recruiting (doesn’t everything?). We’ve long lauded the University of Georgia for the tremendous educational and social experience it provides. It is an exceptional school in every way, and not just a football factory. But when you’re recruiting at the level that Smart and the Bulldogs currently are, and you’re trying to trying to achieve what they’re trying to achieve right now, the players they’re interacting with aren’t as interested in what degree they can earn. They’re more interested in what they can earn when they leave.
This not a new concept, of course. Georgia has been rocking its good-path-to-the-NFL reputation ever since Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi each became No. 1 overall picks in 1943 and ’45, respectively. The Bulldogs devote 15 pages of their 216-page media guide to detailing their rich NFL history. That’s how we know that they have produced 34 first-round draft choices over the years, that they produced three first-rounders last year alone (really four if one considers Nick Chubb’s impact after being the third pick of second round), and that they’ve had four No. 1 overall picks.
As for the Super Bowl, it doesn’t hurt to have a rich history in that game either, and Georgia certainly does. In fact, the Bulldogs this year extended their SEC-leading streak to 18 straight seasons of having a former player participate in the Super Bowl. Georgia could distinguish itself even further as an NFL talent producer should one of its lettermen claim Super Bowl MVP honors.
Only Georgia and Southern Cal have had three different alums claim the outstanding player trophy. Former Bulldogs Jake Scott, Terrell Davis and Hines Ward, and the Trojans with Lynn Swann, Marcus Allen and Malcolm Smith. Michigan claims four Super Bowl MVP winners, but Tom Brady has accounted for three of those. Likewise, Alabama players have won it three times, but twice by Bart Starr.
With Gurley and Michel as the featured backs in Sunday’s game, the odds are certainly good that could happen. If it does, expect another page in Georgia’s media guide.
Regardless, the Bulldogs are already taking advantage of their NFL presence in recruiting. In fact, UGA sports communication specialist Steven Colquitt has come up with a pretty decent all-Georgia NFL team from this past season’s roster (accepting some injured reserves as starters).
See what you think:
- QB: Matthew Stafford
- RB: Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel
- OL: David Andrews, Clint Boling, Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones, Tyler Catalina, Isaiah Wynn
- TE: Ben Watson, Orson Charles
- WR: A.J. Green, Chris Conley, Isaiah McKenzie, Javon Wims
- DL: Geno Atkins, Abry Jones, John Jenkins, Justin Houston
- ILB: Thomas Davis, Roquan Smith, Ramik Wilson
- OLB: Leonard Floyd, Lorenzo Carter, Alec Ogletree, Jordan Jenkins
- DB: Shawn Williams, Reshad Jones, Corey Moore, Maurice Smith
- PR/KOR: Isaiah McKenzie
The Bulldogs are hurting a little for kickers and punters at the moment. Otherwise, a pretty good squad.
Super Bowl LIII kicks off on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium (TV: CBS; radio: 92.9-FM The Game).