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Former UGA kick returner Isaiah McKenzie has the best chance of any Bulldog of being selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Isaiah McKenzie is Georgia football’s best hope in the NFL draft class of 2017

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Isaiah McKenzie won’t get drafted high, but he could be a really good return man in the NFL.

Track: Let There Be Rock | Artist: Drive-By Truckers | Album: Southern Rock Opera

Isaiah McKenzie may be a better pro than you think

As both Seth Emerson of DawgNation and I wrote Thursday, this will not be a great year for Georgia in the NFL draft. There’s probably a maximum of three Bulldogs who could be picked in the seven rounds, with even the possibility that only one is selected. But the one who will definitely get drafted — WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie — has a chance to do big things at the next level, even if he doesn’t go off the board until the third day.

It’s unclear when McKenzie is likely to have his name called. Most draft analysts have the return man going late on the third day, in the sixth or seventh round. But the godfather of draftniks, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., is more optimistic about McKenzie’s chances, slating him in the fourth round, with the potential to even be taken in the third round.

“He’s a factor. People will say, ‘Oh, he’s small, whatever, diminutive,’” Kiper said, according to Jason Butt of The Telegraph. “Hey, this league, the NFL, now is about guys that can do exactly what he brings to the table.”

And it’s what he brings to the table that gives me confidence that regardless of where, or even if, he’s drafted, McKenzie can be a player at the next level. With only a bit more than 800 yards receiving in his three-year UGA career, I’m not so confident he can be a huge threat on offense, but I do have confidence that the man who set the record for return TDs at Georgia (6) can be deadly as a return man in the NFL.

I was in love with McKenzie’s return skills for his entire three-year stretch at Georgia, particularly his talent on kickoffs. And it just so happens that the current structure and rules around kickoffs make a player with his skills even more likely to have an influence on the game.

Before last season, the NFL made a rule change that moved touchbacks from the 20 to the 25 in an effort to reduce hits on kickoffs by creating a greater incentive to take a knee. But the rule backfired. With the new rule in place, it behooved kickoff teams to boot it inside the 5 instead of in the end zone, typically allowing them to stop the return man before he reached the 25. This forced the return team into worse field position than with a touchback.

That change creates huge value for a player such as McKenzie, who has proven he has the goods on kickoff returns and creates scenarios that will maximize his strengths. And that could give some coaches a reason to draft him a bit earlier than you would expect from a niche player of his size.

It may be just wishful thinking from an admitted McKenzie fan, but I expect him to catch on in the NFL and make some jaws drop like he did so many times as a Bulldog.

A look back at UGA’s first-round picks

For the first time in two years, Georgia football went without a player selected in the first round of the NFL draft. But the Dawgs still have a deep history in the draft’s opening round. Here’s a quick look at some of those UGA first-round selections from the last decade:

When Kirby Smart met Nick Saban

We have our first Nick Saban vs. Kirby Smart matchup, but it’ll come on the links. The Alabama head coach and former Alabama defensive coordinator have been paired together at the 11th annual Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl charity golf tournament. The event is full of college coaches from around the country. Each coach will play with a former player from its school. Smart will hook up with David Dukes, while Saban will partner with former Heisman winner Mark Ingram.

The first day of the event is Sunday, April 30 at Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee, so it’ll still be a few more days before we know if Smart can get the best of Saban in what could be the first of many future competitive meetings, some of which should come on the gridiron.

ICYMI

Support the Bitter Southerner

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for a small request to those of you who like good stories. The Bitter Southerner, a fantastic website that does great reporting on life in the South, is in the midst of its annual membership drive. It is looking for folks to help support the fantastic work it does every week so it can keep bringing you important stories on the South and the people who live here. (Full disclosure: I’ve written for BS a handful of times.)

If you’ve never checked out the site before, you should do so now. And if you have, you know what I’m talking about when I mention all its great work. That’s on top of the fact that the site’s founder and EIC, Chuck Reece, is a Georgia Bulldog, and it features writing from many other UGA alums, such as myself. So, if you like great stories about the South, or just great stories, consider becoming a member.

Good dog

A good dog and a damn good Dawg.