Don’t expect the results from last year’s NFL draft to carry over into this year.
Three former Georgia football players — Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel — were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This year, only cornerback Deandre Baker is expected to hear his name called during the first round on Thursday.
But there will still be plenty of Bulldogs entering the NFL. Twenty-one former Georgia players competed at the 2019 Georgia Pro Day and nine were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr projected Baker, linebacker D’Andre Walker and receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman to be selected in the first three rounds in their latest mock draft.For potential NFL players like Baker, Walker, Ridley and Hardman, a lot more is in flux than where they will be picked and what team they will play for. In the process of transitioning to the professional ranks, players must carve out their role as fast as possible.
According to McShay, Ridley shouldn’t have a problem finding his place at the next level. Any team searching for a No. 2 or No. 3 outside receiver should be able to scoop up Ridley around the third round, McShay said in a conference call on Monday.
“He’s a physical receiver who has good route running skills,” McShay said. “And the longer I’ve been in this business, the more I appreciate that in terms of translating to the next level. Guys that know how to separate with their hands and use their bodies and box out guys and be physical. And that’s what he is.”Ridley doesn’t have everything going for him, however. He finished the combine in early March with the second-worst vertical jump among receivers and a lackluster 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds. He decided against trying the drills again at the pro day. And until his final collegiate season, Ridley’s stats didn’t really jump off the page either. But then he increased his receptions from 14 to 44 and caught nine touchdowns.
“He kind of became the guy,” McShay said.
Playing alongside Ridley was Hardman, who offers a different set of skills than his former teammate.
“[Hardman’s] got the speed, he’s got the explosiveness,” McShay said. “He is not nearly as polished as a route runner, but he’s someone who can create after the catch.”
Kiper Jr. listed Hardman as a potential steal in the third or fourth round because of his speed and special team capabilities. Last season, ESPN named Hardman to its All-America first team as a kick returner. He ran a punt back 70 yards against Middle Tennessee in 2018 and had a 47-yard kickoff return the season prior.
What about Baker? How will he fare in the draft and in the NFL?
After all, he is the only former Georgia player projected to be picked in the first round. McShay said Baker is a “really, really good football player,” but there might be one problem.
“If he falls, part of it is going to be frustration from the coaching staff about the way he finished his career, in terms of not playing in the bowl game but being around and not being the best influence,” McShay said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”
Baker, who was the 2018 Jim Thorpe Winner as the best defensive back in the country, sat out Georgia’s loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. It’s unclear how McShay knows Baker’s conduct upset Georgia’s coaching staff.
It’s also unclear whether any of this matters come draft night. Because other than the fact that Georgia almost certainly won’t have more than one player selected in the first round, almost anything can happen.