Imagine an NFL offense with a quarterback, two running backs, a wide receiver, a tight end and both tackles headed to the Pro Bowl.
Throw in a Pro Bowl defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback and return man, and it might be a club that could win a Super Bowl.
That’s what a team of former Georgia high school football all-stars would’ve brought to bear in 2019.
“Wow, I didn’t know there were that many kids from Georgia,” said Stanley Pritchett, football coach of Arabia Mountain High in DeKalb County and a former Atlanta Falcons fullback and nine-year NFL veteran. “To win a Super Bowl, that would depend on the coaching staff. But they’d have a lot of talent on their hands.”
This is the first of three articles that will bear witness to Georgia’s growing ascendancy in major professional team sports. Each will include an all-star team of active former Georgia high school players in the NFL, the NBA or major league baseball.
The all-Georgia NFL team (found at the bottom of this story) includes NFL stars such as Deshaun Watson, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, Tyreek Hill and Cameron Heyward.
More than 125 former Georgia high school players suited up in the NFL last season, so it’s not surprising that an all-star team would be so buff. But Georgia hasn’t always been so prominent in the league.
In 1996, Pritchett was among 14 Georgia players taken in the NFL Draft. That was a high number in those days. The average in the 1990s was 11.6. The average has swelled to 17.2 this past decade, peaking with 30 in 2015. One of Pritchett’s own, former Arabia Mountain receiver Breshad Perriman, was drafted that year.
Pritchett also was the first NFL player from Atlanta’s Douglass High. There have been five since, including first-round picks Jamal Lewis and Ahmad “Batman” Carroll.
Pritchett said year-round training and position-specific instruction have been catalysts for the increasing numbers. Pritchett cited several former NFL players in metro Atlanta who are trainers such as former Atlanta Falcons star defensive end Chuck Smith and Pro Bowl tackle Willie Anderson.
“When I came up in Atlanta in the ‘90s, we didn’t know so many guys who are making it to the NFL,” Pritchett said. “Now, they can see them, they can work out with them, and it motivates them.”
Norcross coach Keith Maloof, the high school coach of Kamara, said offensive schemes and more advanced weight training have better prepared Georgia high school players than in the past.
“Back in the day, offenses were split-back veer, wishbone, that sort of thing,” Maloof said. “Now we’re exposing talent more in the way offenses have evolved, where the players can be evaluated out in space. And the weight room has changed from just brute strength to more position-specific, explosive-type movements. They’re better prepared for the next level.”
As did Pritchett, Maloof pointed to the power of role models. When Maloof got the Norcross job in 1999, there were three former players from Gwinnett County in the NFL, and two were kickers. In 2019, there were six from Norcross alone.
“We’ve had some talented people around Norcross, some in basketball too, and they see it,” Maloof said. “There is that hope. They saw when Geremy [Davis] and Max [Garcia] broke into the league, and that opened up the guys’ eyes. Then you’ve got Alvin. He’s the biggest one now. And Lorenzo [Carter]. You’ll see him coming on strong.”
Based on the 2019 season, the offensive firepower would be the most impressive part of an all-star Georgia NFL team.
Watson, the former Gainesville quarterback, has landed in the Pro Bowl the past two seasons with the Houston Texans. He’d have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers – Michael Gallup of Monroe Area and the Dallas Cowboys and tight end Darren Waller of North Cobb and the Oakland Raiders.
Pro Bowl tight end Jared Cook might be coming off the bench, and Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill of Coffee and the Kansas City Chiefs would be the No. 2 receiver, at least statistically.
Nick Chubb of Cedartown and the Cleveland Browns was second in the NFL in rushing yards (1,494) last season. Chris Carson of Parkview and the Seattle Seahawks was fifth (1,230) but was passed over for the Pro Bowl in deference to Kamara.
The Pro Bowl tackles from Georgia are Orlando Brown of Peachtree Ridge and Baltimore Ravens and Trent Brown of Westover and the Oakland Raiders.
Other Pro Bowl players from Georgia in 2019 were defensive linemen Cameron Heyward of Peachtree Ridge and the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett of Rockdale County and the Atlanta Falcons, cornerback Darius Slay of Brunswick and the Detroit Lions and return man and wide receiver Mecole Hardman of Elbert County and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Another Pro Bowl player, kicker Wil Lutz of Northgate and the Saints, would be a toss-up to make this team over Harrison Butker of Westminster and the Chiefs. Both are two of the four most-accurate kickers in NFL history.
And the team would only get stronger in coming years. Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas of Pace Academy, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown of Lanier and Alabama safety Xavier McKinney of Roswell are expected to go in the first round of the NFL Draft this month. Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell of Westlake is another first-round projection on some draft boards.
The all-Georgia NFL team:
QB – Deshaun Watson (Gainesville)
Watson, the former Clemson star, has led the Houston Texans to 11-5 and 10-6 finishes the past two seasons, each ending in Pro Bowl selections for him. He stood sixth in ESPN’s Raw Total Quarterback Rating (RAW) for 2019. Backup: Cam Newton (Westlake).
RB – Nick Chubb (Cedartown), Alvin Kamara (Norcross)
Chubb, Georgia’s second all-time leading rusher, ran for 1,494 yards — second in the NFL — in his second season as a pro in 2019, which earned him a Pro Bowl invite. Kamara, a former Tennessee player, made his third Pro Bowl in three seasons with 797 yards rushing, 533 receiving, for the New Orleans Saints. Backups: Chris Carson (Parkview), Kenyan Drake (Hillgrove), Peyton Barber (Milton)
WR – Tyreek Hill (Coffee), Michael Gallup (Monroe Area)
Hill, a fifth-round pick out of West Alabama in 2016, would’ve gone over 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight season with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs but missed four regular-season games with an injury. He’s a four-time Pro Bowl player, two time All-Pro. Gallup, a second-year player out of Colorado State, had a breakout year with the Dallas Cowboys with 1,107 yards receiving in only 14 games. Backups: Darius Slayton (Greater Atlanta Christian), Chris Conley (North Paulding), Breshad Perriman (Arabia Mountain), Mecole Hardman (Elbert County)
TE – Darren Waller (North Cobb)
Waller, a former Georgia Tech wide receiver, had only 18 receptions in his first three seasons in the NFL, then emerged as a beast in 2019 with the Oakland Raiders. Waller had 90 receptions for 1,145 yards, second among all NFL tight ends. Waller technically was not a Pro Bowl player. He was an alternate who would’ve moved into a spot vacated by the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce when Kansas City made the Super Bowl. But Waller had just undergone thumb surgery and declined. Another Georgia player, Jared Cook of North Gwinnett and the New Orleans Saints, made the NFL Pro Bowl squad, so Georgia had a Pro Bowler at the position no matter how you slice it. Backups: Jared Cook (North Gwinnett), Evan Engram (Hillgrove)
C – David Andrews (Wesleyan)
Andrews, of Georgia, was a three-year starter for the New England Patriots who hopes to return to form next season. He missed the 2019 season after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism last August. Backup: None
G – James Carpenter (Hephzibah), Cameron Erving (Colquitt County)
Carpenter, who played at Alabama, joined his home-state team, the Atlanta falcons, last season. He’s been a starter when healthy all nine of his NFL seasons. Irwin, a five-year veteran out of Florida State, has played all positions on the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line but likely would play guard on this team. Backup: Max Garcia (Norcross)
T – Orlando Brown (Peachtree Ridge), Trent Brown (Westover)
Both made the Pro Bowl for the first time in their careers in 2019. Orlando Brown, a former Oklahoma All-American, is in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens. Trent Brown, previously a journeyman from Florida, has come into his own with the Oakland Raiders. Backups: Chris Hubbard (Carver-Columbus), Elijah Wilkinson (Georgia Southern), Chuma Edoga (McEachern)
DT – Grady Jarrett (Rockdale County), Abry Jones (Northside-Warner Robins)
Jarrett, a former Clemson player and four-year starter with the Atlanta Falcons, made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019 after registering career-highs in sacks (7.5) and solo tackles (38). Jones, formerly of Georgia, has played his seven-year NFL career in Jacksonville. The 2019 was his second as a full-time starter. Backups: Grover Stewart (Mitchell County), Justin Jones (South Cobb)
DE – Cameron Heyward (Peachtree Ridge), Justin Houston (Statesboro)
Heyward, a former Ohio State All-American, had his best season as a pro last year at age 30 as he totaled 83 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 23 QB hits for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He made first-team All-Pro for the second time. Houston, an ex-Georgia player, is a former All-Pro himself, also age 30. Though perhaps past his prime, Houston had 11 sacks with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019, his most since an NFL-best 22 in 2014. Backups: Dalvin Tomlinson (Henry County), Henry Anderson (Woodward Academy)
ILB – Roquan Smith (Macon County), Jarrad Davis (Camden County)
Smith, a Butkus Award winner while at Georgia, has totaled more than 100 tackles in each of his two seasons with the Bears, though he missed four games in 2019 because of injuries and personal reasons. Davis, another former first-round pick, would start here in a 3-4 defense. The former Florida player is a three-year starter with the Detroit Lions. Backup: Wesley Woodyard (LaGrange)
OLB – Preston Smith (Stephenson), Bud Dupree (Wilkinson County)
Georgia has produced such wealth of players at this position that household local names such as first-round picks Vic Beasley and Montez Sweat, not to mention Lorenzo Carter, might not make the team. The best outside linebacker from Georgia in 2019 probably was Smith, a second-round pick out of Florida in 2015. Smith is a four-year starter who had a career-high 12 sacks in 2019 for the Green Bay Packers, his new team. Dupree, a 2015 first-round pick out of Kentucky, had a similar career year with 11.5 sacks, a personal best. He’s a three-year starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Backups: Leonard Floyd (Dodge County), Jordan Jenkins (Harris County), Thomas Davis (Randolph-Clay)
CB – Darius Slay (Brunswick), Casey Hayward (Perry)
Slay, formerly of Mississippi State, lately of the Detroit Lions, made the Pro Bowl for the third straight season in 2019. He’s a seven-year NFL veteran with 19 career interceptions. Hayward, an eight-year pro out of Vanderbilt, is a six-year starter, the last four with the Los Angeles Chargers. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017. Nickel back — Steven Nelson (Northside-Warner Robins). Backups: Rock Ya-Sin (Southwest DeKalb), Bradley Roby (Peachtree Ridge), Kenny Moore (Lowndes)
S – Kevin Byard (M.L. King), Kareem Jackson (Westside-Macon)
Byard has been a starter since his 2016 rookie season out of Middle Tennessee. He plays for the Tennessee Titans and was named All-Pro in 2017, when he led the NFL with eight interceptions. He’s more of a free safety. Jackson, a 10-year NFL veteran out of Alabama, now plays strong safety after years of cornerback duty. He’s now with the Denver Broncos after nine seasons with the Houston Texans. Backups: Shawn Williams (Early County), Vonn Bell (Ridgeland)
PK – Harrison Butker (Westminster)
Two Georgia kickers rank in the top four all-time in field-goal percentage. No. 2 is Butker from Westminster and Georgia Tech at 89.7 percent. No. 4 is Wil Lutz of Northgate and Georgia State at 87.5 percent. Lutz made the NFC Pro Bowl last season.
P – Ty Long (Roswell)
Long, a rookie for the Los Angeles Chargers, averaged 47.0 yards per punt in 2019. He also made seven of nine field-goal attempts and put 59.6 percent of kickoffs for touchbacks. Long was probably the best all-around kicking specialist in the NFL last year.
LS – Josh Harris (Carrollton)
An eight-year veteran from Auburn, Harris has played in 123 career games for the Falcons.
RET – Mecole Hardman (Elbert County)
Hardman, a rookie from Georgia last season, was the AFC’s Pro Bowl return man. He averaged 26.1 yards on kickoff returns and 9.3 on punt returns. His best return was a 104-yarder against the New York Jets. Also a wide receiver, Hardman had 26 catches for 538 yards for the Super Bowl champions.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.