The Atlanta Falcons have only drafted four Georgia Bulldogs since the year 2000. This year the Bulldogs have eight players expected to be drafted and the Falcons have nine picks. The stage is definitely set, for a Bulldog to he drafted by Atlanta, for the first time since 2011.
The fact that the Atlanta Falcons have only drafted four players who spent their college career playing for the Georgia Bulldogs, in the last 18 years is astounding. This is especially surprising because UGA has consistently placed players in the NFL over the last 20 years. In fact the University of Georgia currently ranks number 13 among colleges producing current NFL players with 34, according to this FlurrySports article written by Zach Brunner. Those 34 players rank the Georgia Bulldogs players, as the highest paid group from any NCAA Power Five conference. David Ching of Forbes.Com has the story on the UGA earnings here.
The 2019 NFL Draft features eight Georgia Bulldogs that are expected to be drafted by the time the event ends. That group is headed by cornerback Deandre Baker. Baker who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, is said to be slipping on team’s draft boards. There are rumors of Baker checking out of the Bulldogs season and causing problems in practice, prior to deciding to sit out the Sugar Bowl. Jordan James of 247sports.com has the story on Baker’s behavioral issues here.
Deandre Baker’s misfortune could be the Atlanta Falcons gain. Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst appeared on the Dukes and Bell show, on 92.9 The Game this afternoon. He stated that Deandre Baker could drop to the Atlanta Falcons in the second round. If that happens Atlanta should sprint to the podium and select the first round talent. Take a look at Tony Pauline’s final mock draft for rounds two and three by clicking here.
Wide receiver Riley Ridley, the brother of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, is another UGA player who should be drafted early. He is expected to be taken in the second or third round of Thursday’s draft. Due to the team having their top three wide receivers already in place, Ridley is unlikely to be on the Atlanta radar, baring him sliding into the fourth round. Tight End Issac Nauta is projected to go in round five or six. Like Ridley, it is unlikely that the Atlanta Falcons will consider Nauta. The Falcons have four established tight ends after signing Luke Stocker and resigning Logan Paulsen. They combine with starter Austin Hooper and young Eric Saubert, who the team has been grooming for a few seasons, to form a tight end rotation that will be tough for a rookie to crack.
Edge rusher D’Andre Walker would certainly fill a need for Atlanta. Analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com projects that Walker will be taken in round three or round four of the draft. Walker was the only consistent source of quarterback pressure for the Bulldogs defense last year. The issue with Walker, is he may not be a good scheme fit for the Falcons. He is a bit undersized for an NFL defensive end at 251 pounds. Walker might be better suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Jonathan Ledbetter is a defensive lineman that specializes in stopping the run. He is projected to be a sixth or seventh round pick in this draft. Ledbetter’s detractors say he is a tweener that is not quick enough to play defensive end and not big enough to play defensive tackle, weighing 280 pounds. If drafted by Atlanta, Ledbetter could be asked to shed some weight in order to be a run stopping defensive end, who rotates in on early downs, replacing the role vacated by Derrick Shelby. This is a role I feel Ledbetter can thrive in, that’s why I selected him for the Falcons in the sixth round of the Atl All Day Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft.
Mecole Hardman is another Georgia Bulldogs player, that could be a priority on the Atlanta Falcons draft board. The wide receiver was the fastest UGA player at the combine, running the 40 yard dash in 4.33 seconds. He is an explosive player, who would add a new dimension to the Atlanta Falcons return game. Hardman is expected to go in round three or four of the draft.
Terry Godwin is another Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver that is projected to be drafted. The Hoganville, Georgia native ran a slower than expected 4.55 time in the 40 yard dash. In addition to providing depth as a wide receiver, Godwin also has some experience returning kicks and punts. Godwin is on the borderline to be drafted, projected as a seventh round pick.
Running back Elijah Holyfield is the eighth UGA player that has a chance to be drafted. Despite running a shockingly slow 40 yard dash time of 4.78 seconds, Elijah is expected to be taken in the sixth or seventh round. Elijah the son of former boxing heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, lacks breakaway speed, but he could be the power back that Atlanta needs to help fix the short yardage woes, that have plagued the Falcons for years.
All of the factors are lining up for a Georgia Bulldogs player to continue his football career just down the road from Athens, in Atlanta for the Falcons. This would be a great thing, because if the player performs well, he will help unite the two fan bases. Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart have a great relationship. They are friends that talk regularly, so Quinn has the inside track on what he would be getting by drafting a one of the UGA players. Georgia is one of the top five states for producing NFL talent, and the University of Georgia is the top developer of that talent. It’s time that the Atlanta Falcons take advantage of the resources that are being groomed in their own backyard.