ATHENS — The 2018 NFL Combine begins Friday in Indianapolis. I normally don’t get too excited about that. It’d be a stretch to say I’m “excited” about it now. I’m not going to lay all other business aside so I can watch the non-stop coverage by the NFL Network and ESPN. But I’m definitely interested thanks to Georgia’s significant presence in the proceedings. Intrigued probably would be the best way to put it.
It’s always fascinating to me to see who makes it in the NFL and who doesn’t. I had the good fortune of being able to speak extensively this week to two former Bulldogs, quarterbacks David Greene and D.J. Shockley, and it still surprises me that neither one of those guys were able to hook on longer than they did in the league.
Greene, a left-hander who left UGA as the NCAA’s winningest quarterback of all time and the SEC’s career passing leader, was drafted in the third round (85th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in 2005 and managed to squeeze four seasons out of his professional career.
Shockley, whose college career overlapped Greene’s at Georgia, lasted six years before he finally tossed in the towel on pro football. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 and actually made the roster as the third-stringer. He hung on four years — interrupted by an ACL injury — before getting cut during the 2009 season. Then Shockley played (sparingly) with the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks before stepping away from the game as a player.
I thought both players had a good chance of sticking in the league, especially Greene, who at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds seemed to meet the prototype so important to the NFL.
“You’ve really got to make a splash in those first few years, and if you don’t get on the field that’s hard to do,” Greene told me. “They’re always looking for the next best thing. So if you don’t get on the field in those first few years and prove that you can win, it’s very difficult. As a quarterback, if you can get on the field and prove you can win a game, you can play for 20 years.”
That’s the crazy thing about. Every year there are Georgia players that I’m certain will get drafted high or at least have the makeup to make it on the next level and then they’re either passed over, or are taken later than expected or not at all or simply don’t make it. Then you have undrafted free agents like center David Andrews who end up starting right out of the chute for the New England Patriots or guys like Geno Atkins who don’t get selected until the fourth round but end up starting for years and playing in multiple Pro Bowls.
“It’s definitely not an exact science,” said D. Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons for the AJC and is in Indianapolis this week.
D-Led will be writing a lot about Georgia players this weekend and already is — you can follow his coverage HERE — because the Bulldogs are well represented in Indianapolis. They had 10 players invited, which is tied with LSU for third most in the country this year and trails only Alabama (14) and Ohio State (11). The UGA alums are running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, wide receiver Javon Wims, outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, inside linebacker Roquan Smith, defensive linemen John Atkins and Trent Thompson and defensive back Dominick Sanders.
And that is not an unusual presence for UGA. They always have a lot of players invited to the combine and, in fact, annually rank among the top schools represented on NFL rosters. Additional Georgia players who weren’t invited to combine will work out for teams at UGA’s Pro Day on March 21. That’s always well-attended by NFL scouts and coaches.
The intriguing part is seeing how these young men do during the combine this weekend and, ultimately, when the draft comes around in April. Running backs, offensive linemen, kickers and specialists are up first on Friday. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends will show off their wares on Saturday, D-line and linebackers are up on Sunday and defensive backs go on Monday.
Never-minding who is going to be drafted first and all that, who do you think of the Georgia group is likely to stick around in the league and play the longest?
My guess is Wynn. The 6-2, 302-pound lineman from St. Petersburg has created a lot of pre-draft buzz for himself. Of course, Wynn started for the national runner-up Bulldogs this past season as a left tackle and played to an all-conference level despite being considered too small and out of position. He projects as a guard in the NFL and Ledbetter tells me the Falcons, which are considering expending a first-round pick on a guard, are showing a lot of interest.
If an offensive lineman can prove himself capable of starting and can stay healthy, he can play for a long, long time in the NFL. I believe Wynn has that capability. The same can’t be said for most other positions, especially running back and receiver. Chubb, Michel and Wims, however, are all generating a lot of interest. And when and where Bellamy, Carter and Smith might get drafted is incredibly compelling to consider.
Let’s hear from you guys. Who of the Bulldogs’ pool of candidates looks best-suited for an extended NFL career? Are you planning to watch the combine or otherwise follow it?