ATHENS -- Aaron Murray was asked last month what he thinks the NFL thinks of him.
“They’re very impressed with the 52 starts, the amount of games I’ve played, the success I’ve had at this level and the SEC,” he said. “The biggest question mark for me was when am I gonna be healthy.”
That question, and how it impacts Murray, sets up as one of the few storylines going for Georgia in this year’s NFL draft. For a program so used to sending players to the pros, this is setting up to be an uncharacteristically quiet draft.
Last year, Georgia tied its all-time record with eight players drafted. This year it could end up as low as two, its lowest total since 2000.
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Murray, the most statistically prolific quarterback in Georgia history, projects to go anywhere from late in the second round to the later rounds. (NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Murray is “probably” a third-round pick.)
Tight end Arthur Lynch is also projected for the middle rounds, and then a few others -- defensive end Garrison Smith and some offensive linemen -- have a shot in the later rounds.
Georgia’s low number of prospects can be tied to the same problems that plagued Georgia’s 2013 season: Injuries and defensive struggles.
Several underclassmen could have been in this draft if their seasons had gone differently. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell was felled by an ACL injury, and cornerback Damian Swann struggled. They were both candidates to leave early, but events of last season instead made it obvious they should stay. The only underclassmen who seemed to even entertain the possibility of going pro was inside linebacker Ramik Wilson, a consensus first-team all-SEC selection.
As a result, none of the members of Georgia’s so-called “Dream Team” recruiting class of 2011 ended up going pro after their third year. Or at least, not at Georgia.
Isaiah Crowell, the tailback from Columbus, is in the draft after spending the past two seasons at Alabama State. He transferred there after being dismissed.
He’s also not the only former Georgia player waiting for his name to be called: LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, dismissed from Georgia in 2010, is a candidate to go as high as the second round. Towson cornerback Jordan Love, who transferred from Georgia after the 2011 season, is a candidate to go late.
So it’s at least possible that more former Georgia players will be drafted than ones who finished their careers in Athens.
While there may not be too much intrigue surrounding players on last year’s Georgia team, it’s a big deal for those involved.
Lynch was a consensus first-team all-SEC selection. The Massachusetts native is thinking about a career in politics, and recently emceed an Athens event for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter. But first, Lynch is eyeing football.
“I think I’ve done a very good job up until this point,” Lynch said of his draft preparation. “When you do well, there’s only one thing to do and that’s be consistent. I don’t have to do anything spectacular, just make the catches, run the good routes, and just conduct myself in a professional manner.”
Chris Burnette is another player who appears to have a bright future after football. The offensive lineman has been cited for several off-field awards, and is already married. But Burnette said the NFL is the goal.
“I’m pursuing it as hard as I can,” Burnette said. “I feel like God gave me talents to do multiple things ... and I think I should see this through. It’s honoring to him to use the talents to the best of my ability, and when it ends, it ends. When it does, I’ll move forward.
“This stuff isn’t the end-all, be-all for me. So I definitely want to do it, it’s a dream I’ve had for the longest (time). I’m definitely excited to push this for as long as it happens.”
That also goes for Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee, the two other senior offensive linemen on last year’s team. And players like receiver Rantavious Wooten, linebacker T.J. Stripling and cornerback Blake Sailors are hoping for a shot.
Then there’s Murray.
He was never considered a surefire NFL prospect, mostly because of his height: He measured at just over 6-feet at the NFL combine. Then the ACL injury last November led to more concerns, which Murray hoped he allayed during UGA’s pro day last month.
But Murray can also point to his accomplishments at Georgia, his accuracy, and some history of mobility out of the pocket.
“Murray, I thought, probably knows how to play the position (better) than any quarterback in the draft,” Mayock said. “He’s got anticipation and timing probably because he’s had to since he was a young kid because he was never that big, overpowering arm quarterback.”
Five years ago, Matthew Stafford was the first overall pick. But you don’t have to go that high to succeed, as another undersized quarterback has shown: Two years ago, Russell Wilson was a third-round pick, and last January, he led Seattle to a Super Bowl win.
“I just wanna be picked somewhere,” Murray said. “At the end of the day, I just want to be able to be picked by a team and put in the right situation. Be put in a situation where the scheme fits me and my abilities and what I’m able to do on the field, and a great coaching staff that’s willing to work with me and push me every day to get better.”