ATHENS, Ga. -- New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese was leaving a Georgia football team practice earlier this season after doing some scouting. Bulldogs strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger said goodbye to Reese, then shouted:
“Draft one of our guys this year,” Van Halanger said, smiling.
“You all have a good one this year,” Reese replied.
It would be a shock if Reese meant anyone other than A.J. Green, the junior who could be the top wide receiver taken whenever he goes pro.
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But after that, do the Bulldogs have their usual number of NFL prospects? And for all the reasons that have been ascribed to the team’s struggles the past two years, does it come down to a simple lack of enough talent?
During head coach Mark Richt’s first five years, the Bulldogs were 52-13, won two SEC titles and won three East Division titles.
The past five years, the Bulldogs are 42-20.
From 2002-06, the draft years that followed Rich’s first five seasons, the Bulldogs had 32 total players drafted and 15 in the top three rounds.
In the past four drafts, the Bulldogs have seen 19 players drafted and only seven in the top three rounds.
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham spent the past 11 years as an NFL assistant coach before coming to Athens earlier this year. He agreed there is a correlation between NFL draft choices and a college team’s success.
“I think so, yes,” Grantham said. “I think if you look, and generally teams that have first-round picks, first-and-second round picks, and generally over a span of a couple years they have a lot of them, they’re probably pretty good.”
Grantham was then asked whether it would surprise him that the Bulldogs had not had a defensive player drafted in the first two rounds since 2007. He shook his head.
“That’s good research,” Grantham added, smiling.
Mike Detillier, a longtime NFL draft analyst based in Louisiana, noted that drop-off has been most precipitous on defense: Since 2006, Tim Jennings is Georgia’s top drafted defensive player, at 62nd overall. By comparison, Detillier noted, Florida and Tennessee have had seven in the top 62, Alabama has had six, LSU has had four and Auburn three.
As for the 2011 draft, junior linebacker Justin Houston is projected as a first- or second-round pick if he elects to go pro early. But Green is the only other Georgia player Detillier expects to be picked in the first three rounds.
“A.J., he’s going to be an elite player,” said Detillier, who has Green as a top 10 overall talent.
As for the rest of the team?
“It’s a little down from an elite standpoint of seniors,” Detillier said.
For several years, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier liked to use the NFL draft as a yardstick for his program’s struggles. During the past five years, the Gamecocks have had only one player picked in the top two rounds: wide receiver Sidney Rice in 2007.
Now, the Gamecocks may have as many as three future NFL first-rounders on their roster (running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore) and a plethora of possible first-day picks (defensive end Cliff Matthews, wide receiver Tori Gurley, tackle Jarriel King and more.)
Georgia also has first-round level talent, in Green and Houston. But how much deeper is the Bulldogs’ talent?
Offensive lineman Clint Boling is the Bulldogs’ most draftable senior, according to Detillier, who thinks Boling is a late fourth- or early fifth-round pick.
Fullback Shaun Chapas has a shot to be a late draft pick too, according to Detellier.
Linebacker Akeem Dent has improved his stock and has upside as a late pick.
Detellier also thinks someone might take a flyer on Kiante Tripp.
Punter Drew Butler and place-kicker Blair Walsh are also top prospects at their positions.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin, a junior, needs to stay in school to improve his stock into the early rounds, according to Detellier.
“If you’re looking at just seniors, there’s not a lot of early-round picks there,” Detillier said. “But if you throw in A.J. and Justin Houston and the two kickers, it certainly changes. But, if you look at it through the years, they’ve been a team that’s consistently put a lot of guys in the NFL.”
But not lately. And that might tell the tale of the past few seasons.