Which 10 Georgia Bulldogs are the safest bet to make it to the NFL?
Going back to the early Mark Richt days, the Georgia Bulldogs have been one of the more consistent programs in terms of developing NFL talent at a high level.
The coach has changed, but Georgia just had four players selected in the first 35 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft. Considering the level at which Kirby Smart is recruiting, the Bulldogs figure to be one of the more prominent programs on draft day for years to come.
So who are some of Georgia’s top pro prospects heading into the 2018 season? Here’s the top 10. We’re including guys who won’t be eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, though some of the big name recruits of the past class (like Justin Fields) are noticeably absent – after all, we need to see them compete against SEC competition, like the sophomores on this list.
10. QB Jake Fromm
Fromm put up fantastic numbers as a true freshman last year, providing the poise and consistency needed to lead the offense to an SEC title and a berth in the National Championship Game. He’s mature beyond his years, has a blue-collar work ethic, is a respected voice in the huddle and offers a calming demeanor in pressure-packed situations. He’s also an underrated athlete who can make some plays with his feet and avoid the rush in the pocket.
I’m not enamored with Fromm’s arm, however much that rankles Georgia fans. He doesn’t show great velocity or the ability to drive the ball downfield through tight windows. His ball placement isn’t great and his excellent timing has masked issues with accuracy. With that said, his strengths vastly outweigh his weaknesses, and if he’s in the right offense with the right personnel I think he can be a starter at the NFL level, assuming he continues to make strides developmentally.
9. C Lamont Gaillard
The former 4-star DT prospect made the switch to offense early in his career and has prospered ever since, starting all 28 games the past two years. The 6-2, 295-pounder has a squatty but powerful frame — well suited for the pivot — and shows the necessary power in his base to anchor down against powerful NTs. He’s an effective drive blocker who can generate a push up front while also displaying the quickness and lateral mobility to reach and get to the second level.
One thing I really like about him is his communication skills with fellow linemen, helping to make adjustments and identifying stunts and blitzing LBs. His savvy leadership also helped Fromm last year, making Gaillard a crucial piece up front for the offense. I think his skill set and heady play give him the versatility to play either G or C in the NFL, with the latter probably being his more natural position. He should contend to be one of the first senior centers off the board next April.
8. WR Mecole Hardman
The 5-11, 183-pound Hardman is an electric athlete with game-breaking speed and burst. He’s a twitchy guy with excellent lateral mobility and change of direction skills, making him one of the more elusive receivers in the SEC. He’s shifty with the ability to make guys miss in the open field, and with his deep speed he can quickly turn a short gain on the flat or across the middle into a big play.
As with the vast majority of college WRs, he’s still coming along as a route runner and being able to consistently gain separation against press. That will come with further development and progression. With his sleight frame, he’s probably better suited out of the slot in the NFL, but if he can continue to get bigger and more physical, he could certainly play outside, especially at flanker where he can be used in motion and on end-arounds.
7. DE Jonathan Ledbetter
As I’ve indicated previously, Ledbetter’s greatest strength is his versatility, because he has the skill set to play inside at DT or outside at 5-tech DE. He’s still developing his hands and rush moves to get after the QB, but he’s a rock against the run, showing power at the point of attack to remain stout and shed off to the ball.
What makes him so appealing is that his skill set provides flexibility to line up anywhere along the line. No NFL teams strictly run 3-4 or 4-3 defenses anymore; they run hybrid schemes that make it harder for offenses to plan for, meaning versatile guys are far more valuable than in the past. If he can continue to improve his pass rushing prowess and retain his ability to stop the run, his versatility will make him very attractive next April.
6. WR Terry Godwin
Like Hardman, Godwin (5-11, 185) isn’t the biggest or most physical WR, but he’s blessed with speed and quickness. Also like Godwin, he’s a big play waiting to happen, evidenced by his 16.8 yards per reception in 2017. Godwin shows a lot of polish as a receiver, running savvy routes and showing good timing. He has soft and reliable hands, is known for acrobatic catches and does a good job catching the ball in traffic.
With Javon Wims (7th round, 2018) off to the NFL, Godwin will almost assuredly be Fromm’s top target, meaning he should be in store for a big senior season. I anticipate Georgia to throw the ball more this fall than last and I’m eager to see Godwin’s continued development in an increased passing attack, especially after a full offseason working together. He’s not being mentioned among the key senior WRs to keep an eye on yet, but that should change as the season progresses.
5. S J.R. Reed
The son of longtime NFL WR Jake Reed, J.R. Reed signed with Tulsa before transferring to Athens before the 2016 season. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2017, his first as a starter, where he finished second on the team in tackles with 79 while also adding 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries and 1.5 sacks. He’s a very good athlete with enough size (6-1, 195) and speed to potentially play free or strong safety in the NFL.
From the film I’ve seen, he looks stronger in zone than man coverage, displaying the ability to click and close, read the QB and break on the ball to make the play. With numerous senior leaders departing last year’s defense, I expect Reed to take more of a leadership role on what should again be a vicious secondary.
4. OLB D’Andre Walker
Walker was overshadowed much of last season by the presence of guys like Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, but Walker was arguably the most consistent and reliable pass rusher. He shows an excellent first step and can get two steps deep before the OT is out of his stance, with the ability to convert speed to power or dip underneath to run the arc. At 6-3, 240 he’s a classic ‘tweener because he doesn’t have ideal length or size, so his projection in the NFL is still a bit in the air.
I think he has enough speed and strength to play ILB, where his ability to apply pressure inside or out could be devastating against the pass, though he’s still a work in progress in coverage. Wide-9 DE in 4-3 would also be highly intriguing, where you could really cut him loose off the edge and take advantage of his twitch and burst. Wherever he winds up, his ability to rush the passer will force DCs to find a spot to unleash him.
3. OT Andrew Thomas
As a true freshman last year Thomas started all 15 games at RT, aiding one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country. With LT Isaiah Wynn (1st round, 2018) off to the NFL, Thomas will now slide over to the critical blindside, where his feet and length make him an ideal fit. At 6-5, 320 Thomas is well built for the position, carrying his weight well with a powerful base and long arms.
He generally gets good hand placement inside and shows a vice-like grip, which combined with his long arms keeps pass rushers at bay. His athleticism is easy to spot on film, where he plays with a good pad level and moves very well for a man of his size, displaying impressive shuffle and the ability to mirror in pass protection. His mobility affords him the ability to be effective in zone and gap blocking schemes — a very attractive feature to NFL scouts. If he continues developing at his current rate, he’s destined for the first round, just like his predecessor.
2. RB D’Andre Swift
If Swift had signed with nearly any other school, he almost certainly would have been the feature back as a true freshman last year. He signed with Georgia, however, which already employed Sony Michel (1st round, 2018) and Nick Chubb (2nd round, 2018). With both in the NFL, Swift will take on a far larger role this fall.
He has a short but powerful frame at 5-9, 215, displaying excellent power and strength. His height actually plays to his advantage because of his low pad level, which combined with his lower body strength make him brutally tough to bring down. He has excellent speed and burst, showing vision and patience as a runner to get to the second level and pick up chunk yardage. He’s also an effective receiver, giving him the ability to impact the game on all 3 downs. He’s still very young, but he’s an unbelievably gifted RB prospect.
1. CB Deandre Baker
I was more than a little surprised to see Baker come back for his senior season because I thought he would have been picked in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft had he declared. With that said, a strong senior season this fall will easily cement his status as a first round pick next April, and he could contend for being the first CB picked in the entire draft, possibly even in the top-10.
He can be a wet blanket in man coverage, showing the fluid hips and feet in transition that make him so effective in press. He has the quickness and recovery speed to play press at a high level but also the headiness and the quick reflexes to play off or zone effectively. He doesn’t have the length at 5-11 that has become so trendy in the NFL, but his ability to cover so reliably far exceeds focusing on prototypical physical numbers.