Georgia Bulldog Coach Kirby Smart waves to fans during the Dawg Walk as part of the team’s celebration parade in Athens, Georgia on January 15th, 2022.(Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Georgia football recruiting: How the 2022 NFL Draft will continue to elevate Kirby Smart’s program

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s the Intel. This entry is about how this week’s NFL scouting combine and the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft will propel Georgia’s recruiting going forward.

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We’ve read and heard all the lines for years now.

Georgia’s recruiting is great. But. The Bulldogs made the college football playoff and had a good showing on first-round draft picks. But. UGA football is always right in the hunt. But.

Those “buts” centered on the following:

  • Georgia could never win the big game. For the Bulldogs, it meant toppling Alabama. ✅
  • Georgia had yet to win a national championship since 1980. ✅
  • Georgia could never dominate the NFL Draft. ⏳

Those were the last three things on the resume for Georgia to show the nation’s elite recruits. Winning the big game, winning the national championship and sending its guys to the league are three of the most important screening criteria that blue-chip recruits want to see.

It helps them distinguish the momentum and differences from so many amazing scholarship offers.

“I’ve watched Georgia’s draft since I was little,” Georgia OT commit Bo Hughley said this week. “I’ve watched what Georgia has done with offensive linemen in the draft in recent years. That’s really one of the big reasons why I picked Georgia as well.”

That final checkmark begins to come together this week.

Let’s use an example from pop culture. Picture Jordan Davis as Thanos. That next-to-last stone seemed like the end game.

Yet the missing stone for the Infinity Gauntlet for Georgia football recruiting will not be won in Wakanda.

It will fall into place in April in Las Vegas at the 2022 NFL Draft. There’s some conjecture here, but the reality is there will be some very specific program thresholds that the Bulldogs will eclipse in this draft.

When that happens, there will be very little left to say about what the Georgia football program has yet to accomplish under Kirby Smart. Sure, the graduation rates and APR could be higher.

That’s a noble progression the Bulldogs would like to show. Every big-time program wants to tout that.

That said, those things just do not seem like priorities to the majority of All-American recruits in the year 2022.

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Georgia football recruiting: What the 2022 NFL Draft will say

A little history lesson is necessary. Smart’s teams have won the Orange Bowl, a Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs have had a pair of top-ranked recruiting classes, but the NFL Draft has never fully reflected the talent stockpiled in Athens since the 2017 season.

  • 2021 NFL Draft: 9 Bulldogs picked, 1 1RDP, 2 2RDPs, 3 3RDPs
  • 2020 NFL Draft: 7 Bulldogs picked, 2 1RDPs, 1 2RDP,
  • 2019 NFL Draft: 7 Bulldogs picked, 1 1RDP, 1 2RDP
  • 2018 NFL Draft: 6 Bulldogs picked, 3 1RDPs, 1 2RDP, 1 3RDP

Look for that to change with this NFL Draft.

The Bulldogs sent the highest number of prospects (14) to NFL Scouting Combine this week. That’s three more than Alabama and Oklahoma sent to Indianapolis. Georgia was one of only three programs that sent double-digits of its players to that event this week.

It is no stretch to expect to see most of, if not all, of those 14 drafted. There were 324 players invited to the NFL combine this week. The 2022 NFL Draft will consist of just 262 picks. So it is not a certainty to see the Bulldogs go 14-for-14 there.

LSU (2020) and Ohio State (2004) share the modern record for the most selections from one school in a single seven-round draft. Both programs tallied up 14 picks. There is also another criteria necessary to chronicle regarding the quality of selections in a single draft.

LSU (2020) and Ohio State (2016) also share the modern record with 10 picks coming in the first three rounds. A player selected among the first three rounds is, in most cases, a Day 1 NFL starter at a lot of positions.

The Bulldogs established a new program record with their nine selections in the 2021 NFL Draft. It is not far-fetched to explore the possibility of the Bulldogs matching that total among the first three rounds.

Alabama is perhaps the ultimate measuring stick here. The Tide has seen an average of 8.1 of its players taken in every NFL Draft dating back to 2010. Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa was in 2007.

Yet that program has never seen more than 12 players taken in any one NFL Draft. However, the Crimson Tide has seen an average of 4.1 first-round draft picks over the last five drafts, including an eye-popping six first-round picks in last year’s draft.

Given the number of mock drafts floating around, these Bulldogs could very well see their names called by the end of the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft.

  • DL Travon Walker, 1st round
  • ILB Nakobe Dean, 1st round
  • DL Devonte Wyatt, 1st round
  • DL Jordan Davis, 1st round
  • WR George Pickens, 1st-2nd round
  • CB Derion Kendrick, 2nd round
  • ILB Quay Walker, 2nd round
  • S Lewis Cine, 2nd-3rd round
  • RB James Cook, 3rd-4th round
  • OL Jamaree Salyer, 3rd-4th round
  • OG Justin Shaffer, 3rd-4th round
  • ILB Channing Tindall, 3rd-4th round
  • RB Zamir White, 3rd-4th round

That’s a lot of Bulldogs for those first three rounds. If the Bulldogs get close to 14 selections, it also does not look like it will be boosted by sixth or seventh-round selections.

The big things to watch for Georgia football in the 2022 NFL Draft

From a recruiting standpoint, there are a few clear things Georgia will be able to trumpet once all the names are called in Vegas in April.

  • Georgia stands a solid chance of tying its school record for the number of first-round picks in a single NFL Draft. If it does, that will match the feat established when Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel all went first round in 2018. That team was also coming off an appearance in the national championship game.
  • If four Bulldogs go in the first round of this year’s draft, that will set a new record for the program. With Dean, Davis, Walker and Wyatt showing up as first-round picks on a lot of mock drafts, that’s possible. The unofficial 4.40 and 4.43 laser 40 times clocked by Pickens at the NFL Combine on Thursday night now moves him closer to first-round status, too.
  • Georgia has not seen one of its interior defensive linemen drafted since 2013. Period. The Bulldogs could see Davis, Walker and Wyatt all go in the first round in 2022.
  • When that happens, one of those young men will become the first DT from Georgia selected in the first round since Jonathan Sullivan went to the New Orleans Saints in 2003. 2003!
  • To put that into perspective, the Bulldogs have only seen four of their interior DLs taken during the first three rounds since the 2003 NFL Draft. There have only been eight total selections for interior DLs in the 19 NFL Drafts during that span. That will certainly reset the DL narrative about that position in Athens.
  • The development of Jordan Davis from a 3-star prospect to a first or second-round draft pick also stands out. This could be the second consecutive draft (Eric Stokes in 2021) that shows how Georgia developed a former 3-star recruit into a first-round pick.
  • If Pickens does go in the first round, that would be the first time that has happened for a Bulldog since AJ Green went fourth overall in 2011.
  • Pickens should become only the fourth Georgia receiver to be selected in the first or second round since 2009. Mecole Hardman went in the second round in 2019, AJ Green was tabbed in the first in 2011 and Mohammed Massaquoi saw his name called in the second round in 2009.
  • That “LBU” brand will only go stronger for Glenn Schumann’s room. Nakobe Dean is a lock to go in the first round. When he does, he will be the second ILB to go in the first round for UGA under Schumann’s watch. Monty Rice also went in the third round in 2021.
  • It is not common to see five or six ILBs chosen among the first three rounds. It will be exceptional this year to potentially see two or three ILBs off the same defense go in the first three rounds. Dean, Channing Tindall and Quay Walker are trending to do just that in 2022.
  • Lewis Cine holds the promise of being the highest-drafted safety out of Georgia since Thomas Davis went in the first round in 2005. Davis was quickly moved to LB for his NFL career. The Bulldogs have not seen a safety selected among the first three rounds since that selection.
  • Jake Camarda has a chance to become the first UGA punter or kicker selected in the NFL Draft since Blair Walsh went in the sixth round in 2012. If he is selected, he will become the first UGA punter selected by the NFL since Spike Jones went to the Houston Oilers in 1970.
  • If Derion Kendrick goes in the first or second round, he will add to Georgia’s reputation as a “DBU” destination for cornerback recruits. Kendrick has a strong chance of becoming the fourth Georgia cornerback in the Smart era taken in the first or second round since Deandre Baker in 2019.
  • James Cook and Zamir White are showing up in a lot of mock drafts coming off the board between the third and fifth rounds. When those two 5-star signees from the 2018 recruiting class go, they will become the fourth and fifth RBs drafted from Dell McGee’s room since 2018. That will further Georgia’s reputation as “RBU” and that’s not even counting first-round picks like Todd Gurley (2015) and Knowshon Moreno (2009) over the last 13 years.
  • Jamaree Salyer and Justin Shaffer are showing up as third or fourth-round draft picks in a lot of mock drafts. They are set to become the eighth and ninth NFL Draft picks off Georgia’s offensive lines since Kirby Smart became the head coach in 2016.
  • Does developing the 5-stars matter? That topic will inspire some arguments. That said, this draft will likely certify how five former 5-star recruits came to UGA, developed and saw their names called among the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Cook, Dean, Kendrick, Pickens, Salyer, White and both Travon and Quay Walker were all former 5-star signees under Smart.
  • The quarterback position will become just about the only remaining threshold with the NFL Draft from the Smart era. The Bulldogs have seen just six of their signal-callers drafted this century. Matthew Stafford was the lone first-round Georgia QB back in 2009. UGA has only seen two of its quarterbacks (Jake Fromm and Aaron Murray) taken in the NFL Draft since Stafford went No. 1 overall that year.

Recruits want to see a track record of developing the guys at their position for the NFL. That’s why all the big-time programs now have murals on their new program facilities of those guys. Those high draft picks are endorsements for the program. That’s why they still show up in the media guides.

It matters. That’s why every year we hear recruits say for the next three to four years they will be attending their favored school. That establishes the goal they’d like to be an NFL prospect after their third year in college.

The 2022 NFL Draft will now give Georgia an unprecedented standing across the board when it comes to those matters now going forward.

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