Georgia making sure ‘non-combine’ NFL prospects get noticed

Kirby Smart believes one of the biggest losses from the shutdown of athletic activity because of the coronavirus pandemic was Georgia’s Pro Day.

The Bulldogs, like all SEC programs, host NFL teams one day each March to come in and evaluate their eligible players for the coming draft. This year that event was supposed to take place March 18.

The cancellation was not that big of a deal for players such as Andrew Thomas and D’Andre Swift, who were invited to the NFL Combine and project as first-round selections. It’s what Smart calls “the non-combine guys” whose futures could be adversely affected.

“It just fell where it fell,” Smart said in a conference call with beat reporters this week. “We had our same Pro Day, same schedule we've always had, but just missed out on it before the pandemic really hit and before we started social distancing and doing things. It’s the guys like … Tae (Crowder), Tyler (Clark), Tyler (Simmons). We’ve got Eli Wolf. We’ve got guys who didn’t go to the combine that we think are really good football players, you know. I worry for their sake that they never get that.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday the draft will still take place April 23-25 in Las Vegas as scheduled. But it will be conducted without fan involvement and under a modified format still being developed. The draft will be televised regardless.

Underclassmen such as Thomas, Swift, Isaiah Wilson, Jake Fromm and Solomon Kindley are reasonably assured they will hear their names called during that event. But many of Georgia’s players who have had long and productive NFL careers initially made rosters as undrafted free agents.

David Andrews, a starting center on two New England Patriots Super Bowl championship teams, won over coach Bill Belichick during a visit to Georgia’s Pro Day in 2015. The Patriots signed Andrews as an undrafted free agent.

Traditionally, all NFL 32 teams send representatives to Georgia’s Pro Day. Players are put through the paces combine style, run through competitive position drills and are available to meet with the NFL reps.

Such a close look might have benefited a lot of players coming out of Georgia’s program this year. Including the five underclassmen who entered the draft, the Bulldogs were going to have at least 20 players work out for pro scouts. There’s no doubt NFL teams would have been highly interested in seniors such as running back Brian Herrien and defensive lineman Michael Barnett, players who didn’t come in as elite recruits but left as starters.

Crowder came to Georgia as a running back, but finished his career as a starting inside linebacker. Lawrence Cager, an underutilized receiver at Miami before starring for the Bulldogs as a graduate transfer, is eager to show NFL executives the progress he has made since a season-ending ankle injury late last season.

It has been said that the NFL will find you if you’re any good. Smart believes that’s till the case. It might just take a little longer this time around.

For his part, Smart said he’s going to do everything he can to help the situation.

“These pro teams are not going to leave a stone unturned,” Smart said. “It’s not like, you know, the Minnesota Vikings are not going to look into a guy because he wasn’t at the combine. They call. I’ve been reached out by at least five NFL head coaches. I get texts almost every day about our kids and communicate about them.

“So, they’re having to go to non-traditional forms of communication for them to get accurate information because they’re used to come into your building, getting it in your building, getting it through a Pro Day. … We certainly are doing everything we can in our organization to help those guys.”