Record on line for Georgia Bulldogs in NFL draft

November 16, 2019 Auburn: Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas lines up against Auburn in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 16, 2019, in Auburn.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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November 16, 2019 Auburn: Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas lines up against Auburn in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 16, 2019, in Auburn. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

As it did in so many Georgia games throughout his career, it could come down to Rodrigo Blankenship.

“It” in this case is the Bulldogs’ record for number of players selected in a single, seven-round NFL draft. The current record is eight, which UGA had selected off its 2002 and 2013 teams.

The 2020 draft is set to begin at 8 p.m. Thursday. Odds are that if Georgia has a ninth player selected this year, it very likely could be its beloved All-American place-kicker, who projects as the top place-kicker in the draft. Generally, if kickers are drafted at all, they tend to go later in the draft.

For his part, Blankenship plans to remain in Athens until Saturday. Sometime before rounds four through seven begin at noon that day, Blankenship plans to arrive at his parents’ home in Marietta. The hope is that he’ll be alongside his parents, Ken and Izabel Blankenship, when his NFL call comes. Likewise, he’ll be with them if it doesn’t.

“I would absolutely love to be drafted,” Blankenship said, to be clear on the subject.

At least one Bulldog can be fairly certain he won’t have to wait very long to hear his name called. Andrew Thomas, a junior tackle, projects as a first-round pick and, possibly, even a top-10 selection. The Washington Redskins, who pick second, are alleged to have shown much interest, though most projections have them taking Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.

Generally, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Thomas is considered the second or third choice among offensive tackles in this year's draft class. Thomas himself is, of course, among those who believe he should be ranked higher than that.

“I played three years in the SEC at both right tackle and left tackle,” Thomas told Mary Cay Kabot of Cleveland.com. “I dominated every year, and I feel like I’m the best tackle in this class.”

The Browns are picking 10th, by the way.

Somewhere between Thomas and Blankenship, a number of other Georgia players should be selected. The Bulldogs will have at least 15 alums under consideration, including a record five juniors, all from the offense.

Running back D’Andre Swift, one of those juniors, likely will be the next off the board. College football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who will be involved in ESPN’s three-day coverage, considers Swift one of the more intriguing prospects this year. Herbstreit, for one, believes Swift to be the top back available in the class.

However, not all evaluators share that view. And then there’s the added element of the general devaluation of running backs in the NFL.

It all has left Swift's head spinning.

“I don’t know what to think right now,” he said. “I’ve had different phone calls with different teams. There are so many thoughts and emotions going through my head, I don’t know what to think. I don’t know where I’m going to end up. That’s the exciting part, but that’s also the part that has you stressed at the same time.”

There are some positive signs for Swift. He is one of prospects that ESPN has chosen to be part of their live broadcast.

Right tackle Isaiah Wilson likely will be the next to go. Wilson, quarterback Jake Fromm and guard Solomon Kindley are the other Georgia underclassmen in the draft. They all most certainly will get a call.

So should senior J.R. Reed, who is ranked among the top 10 safeties in the draft. It gets decidedly gray for the Bulldogs after that.

Lawrence Cager, who starred for Georgia after coming as a graduate transfer from Miami, surely would be a can’t-miss prospect if not for the injuries that cut short his final college season. Tight ends Charlie Woerner and Eli Wolf seem to have NFL bodies, but does that make them draftable pros?

Likewise, there are uncertainties about the prospects for defensive players such as linebacker Tae Crowder (6-3, 235), who began his career as a running back, and tackle Tyler Clark (6-4, 300).

Explore>> The AJC’s complete coverage of the Bulldogs

In all, Georgia had 10 players invited to the NFL combine in February. But closer to 20 Bulldogs would have worked out for scouts on UGA Pro Day on March 17 had it not been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are, of course, advantages to be being drafted and there certainly are some for being a free agent rather than drafted late. For kickers such as Blankenship, there certainly is honor in being drafted.

An average of fewer than three place-kickers per year have been selected since the draft went to seven rounds in 1994, with no kickers hearing their names called four times (1996, 1998, 2010, 2015). Almost all of the ones that were picked went in the fifth round or later.

So Blankenship is hopeful but unstressed.

“There definitely are some benefits to being drafted, and some for being a free agent,” he said this week. “But being drafted is being drafted. I think it’s a reflection that a team is that much more interested in you and is willing to invest in you. And there’s a little more financial security involved.”

There may also be a UGA record on the line. Whenever that’s been the case in his career, Blankenship almost always came through for the Bulldogs.