Former Georgia Bulldogs running back Elijah Holyfield talks about his performance before NFL scouts in Athens. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Cover 9@9: Holyfield should have stayed in school

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. Holyfield’s mistake. Former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield should have stayed in school.

His slow 40-yard dash times are likely going to knock him out of the NFL draft, which is set for April 25-27 in Nashville. 

“Well, I would say for underclassmen, know your measurables,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said when the AJC asked him about Holyfield. “Know your accurate measurables and if they are not in line within the range that they need to be, you go back and work on things and become a better player.”

The targeted time for running backs is 4.55 seconds. Holyfield times ranged from 4.78 to 4.89 on various clocks at the combine and his pro day. 

“To me, I’ve always said if you’re not a first round pick or an early to mid-second, guaranteed, or that’s the consensus where you are going to go….go back for another year if you have eligibility, use it,” Kiper said. “Don’t come out when you’re not a first or an early second-round pick.”

There’s been a proliferation of underclassmen declaring for the draft. A total of 103 players were granted special eligibility for the draft. 

“Back in the day, it used to be if you’re not a first-round pick you didn’t come out,” Kiper said. “Now, you have fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks coming out early. It makes no sense to me.”

Holyfield rushed 159 times for 1,018 yards and scored seven touchdowns in a breakout junior season. He caught only seven passes in his career at Georgia. 

“It was very close,” Holyfield said about his decision to leave school. “Leaving here with coach (Kirby) Smart and all of the stuff that he’s done for me and all of my teammates, I wanted to come back and leave on a high note. That really would have been heavenly, but ultimately I had to do what was best for me and I thought it was best for my future.”

He’d had a good season and there was always the injury factor. 

“More so just not knowing the things that could happen next season, as far as injuries or doing better than I did this past season,” Holyfield said. 

Before the combine, Holyfield was projected as a middle-round pick by NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah.

2. Rest of the “draftable” Bulldogs. Only cornerback Deandre Baker is projected to be drafted in the first round. 

Kiper has him going to Pittsburgh with the 20th overall pick. 

“Deandre Baker is the one, I like him as a corner, as a player with the pads on,” Kiper said. “He’s got the ability. He competes. He gives you the effort. He’s a run support corner. He can cover. He proved that time and again in the SEC. He’s a first-round caliber player.”

Wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley are mid-round picks. 

“Mecole Hardman with his versatility in the return game with his 4.3 speed, he’s a very intriguing guy in the third- or fourth-round,” Kiper said. “The same thing for Riley Ridley, the receiver.”

He also believes that linebacker D’Andre Walker could get drafted as a pass-rusher. 

“When you look at D’Andre Walker, if you can kind of take what we saw glimpses of the times where he got to the quarterback, if he can make that a little more consistent,” Kiper said. “D’Andre Walker certainly has a chance to be a guy on Day Three who can bring some pass-rush potential in the National Football League.”

Former NFL player Morten Andersen delivers his speech during an induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Photo: David Richard/AP

3. Andersen Fundraiser. Pro Football Hall of Famer Morten Andersen is set to host his seventh annual special teams for special ops event presented by Northside Hospital benefiting Operation One Voice and the Morten Andersen Family Foundation. 

The event will be held at The River Club in Suwanee, beginning on Saturday, May 4 with the Kick-Off Party followed by Monday, May 6 golf outing.

“Our servicemen and women selflessly sacrifice so much and I am grateful to have an opportunity to give something back to them,” Andersen said. “Operation One Voice does an incredible job helping our Special Operators and I’ll continue to support their efforts any way I can.” 

A limited amount of tickets are available for the Kick-Off Party while the golf event is sold out and not open for public attendance. Visit http://morten19.givesmart.com/ for more information and to purchase tickets.

4. Oliver to Falcons. In his latest mock draft, Kiper Jr. has the Falcons bypassing all three of the Clemson defensive linemen with first round grades – Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence  -- and Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams  in order to select Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver with the 14th overall pick in the draft. 

Oliver interviewed with the Falcons at the scouting combine and is expected to have a private workout for the team.

The Falcons signed four offensive players in free agency, which signaled that they are set to have a defensive-minded draft, while also trying to bolster their offensive line.

The Falcons hold the 14th pick in the draft, which his set for April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn. With compensatory picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, the Falcons have nine picks in the draft.

“Ed’s a guy who is very talented, of course,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said at the combine. “He’s athletic. (He) can get up (the field). Disrupt. He can rush. He can also play the run. He’s going to have a lot of eyes on him, I’m sure, at a really attractive spot in the draft.”

Kiper has Ferrell going 16th to the Panthers, Wilkins going 17th to the Giants, Williams going 18th to the Vikings and Lawrence going 19th to the Titans.

5. Cornerback watch. The Falcons, after parting ways with cornerbacks Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Justin Bethel, have to re-stock the position.

Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams, who ran a 4.55 at his pro day, has worked out of the Falcons. He’s a big cornerback at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds and received a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee. 

6. Short arms.  Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams is being projected as an NFL guard because of his short arms (33 5/8 inches). Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he heard the same thing about former Falcons tackle Sam Baker, who had 32 3/8 inch arms, back in 2008. “It’s how you play with them (short arms),” Dimitroff said. 

7. Review Dimitroff’s draft record. Through 11 NFL Drafts under Dimitroff, the Falcons have selected 79 players.

Nine of those selections — Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Vic Beasley, Desmond Trufant, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal — have made a Pro Bowl. Click here to review his draft record and look at the draft-day trades.

8. Blank on the no-shows: Falcons owner Arthur Blank is “concerned” about the high number of “no shows” at the team’s games last season. 

“We are always concerned about that, and that’s a factor across the league,” Blank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via phone from NFL meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday. 

9. Working depth chart: Here’s what the depth chart looks heading into the draft:

Offense

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14, Justin Hardy, 83 Russell Gage, 16 Christian Blake 

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 77 Matt Gono 

LG James Carpenter, 71 Wes Schweitzer

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RG 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Brandon Fusco, 64 Sean Harlow 

RT 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 88 Luke Stocker, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 87 Jaeden Graham, 89 Alex Gray 

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 7 Devin Gray 

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 43 Jeremy Langford

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz 

Defense

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 56 Steven Means

DT 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Michael Bennett, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer 

DE 98 Takk McKinley

WLB 54 Foyesade Olukon, 42 Duke Riley 

LB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter 

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 53 Jermaine Grace 

CB 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

NCB 27 Damontae Kazee, 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 38 Taveze Calhoun 

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 40 Ryan Neal 

Specialists

K 4 Giorgio Tavecchio

KO 5 Matt Bosher 

P 5 Matt Bosher 

KR 38 Kenjon Barner, 14 Calvin Ridley

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 38 Kenjon Barner 

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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