Seven Bulldogs drafted; Holyfield, Ledbetter get free-agent deals

Georgia had seven players selected in the NFL Draft, which ended Saturday, the most of Kirby Smart’s coaching tenure with the Bulldogs.

Smart correctly predicted “a helluva draft,” UGA following up on a 2018 draft that saw six Bulldogs selected, including first-round picks Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel.

The Georgia football program record for most number of players selected in one draft is eight (2002, 2013).

All-American Deandre Baker, the 2018 Thorpe Award winner, was the first UGA player, and the first cornerback overall, picked Thursday night. Baker went 30th overall to the New York Giants, becoming the fifth UGA player selected in the first round the past four years.

Baker’s sticky cover skills were well advertised. Most notably, he hasn’t given up a touchdown in coverage since 2016.

“He’s going to be a great pro. He’s a competitor, he’s physical, he runs well and he has played in a system where he can play multiple coverages,” Smart said. “We ask him to make a lot of checks.”

Receiver Mecole Hardman was the next Bulldog picked.

Kansas City chose Hardman in the second round with the 56th overall pick Friday on the heels of All-Pro Tyreek Hill being suspended indefinitely in conjunction with a domestic-violence investigation.

Hardman, with his 4.33-second speed in the 40-yard dash, has the same sort of explosiveness as Hill, and he is considered to have a high ceiling with only two years of receiver experience.

Riley Ridley originally was the more-talked-about UGA receiver, but he remained available when the draft resumed Saturday. Ridley fell to the 126th overall pick, going to the Chicago Bears in the fourth round after a less-than-stellar NFL combine derailed his hype.

Ridley was Georgia’s leading receiver last season, but his 4.58-second time in the 40-yard dash and 30-inch vertical jump concerned NFL teams. Ridley declined the opportunity to improve his times at UGA pro day, sending the wrong message.

UGA outside linebacker D’Andre Walker was the next Bulldogs player selected, the Tennessee Titans choice in the fifth round.

The Georgia sacks leader suffered a groin injury in the SEC Championship game Dec. 1 and consequently underwent sports hernia surgery Jan. 23, preventing him from playing in the Senior Bowl and working out at the NFL combine.

Missing those evaluation periods had an adverse effect on Walker’s stock, leading to his drop in the draft.

Georgia captain and 2018 first-team All-SEC center Lamont Gaillard went to Arizona in the sixth round. Gaillard was the fourth center picked in the NFL draft and an East-West Shrine Game participant.

Tight end Isaac Nauta was a value pick for the Detroit Lions with the 224th pick in the seventh round.

Nauta surprised some when he came out after a junior season that saw him catch 30 of the 31 balls thrown his direction in 2018.

Nauta didn’t test great at the NFL combine, a 4.91-second 40-yard dash and 28-inch vertical jump indicating a lack of explosion. Teams also might have wanted to see another year of production, even though he graded out highest among draft-eligible SEC tight ends in 2018.

The Carolina Panthers made Terry Godwin a seventh-round pick, reaching for the reliable Georgia wideout with the 237th overall pick.

Godwin, drafted by the Braves out of high school, was slowed by a calf injury at the start of his senior season at UGA and that cut into his production (22 catches, 373 yards, 3 TDs). Godwin finished strong, however, earning Offensive MVP honors in the East-West Shrine Game.

Georgia team captains Elijah Holyfield and Jonathan Ledbetter were not drafted but quickly signed free-agent deals.

Holyfield signed with the Carolina Panthers with minutes of the conclusion of the draft, per the social media account of UGA running backs coach Dell McGee.

Ledbetter, meanwhile, has signed with the Miami Dolphins, according to the Miami Herald.

Holyfield was a thousand-yard rusher, but his 4.78-second time in the 40-yard dash was a concern, while Ledbetter’s pass rush skills at defensive end were identified as lacking.

Receiver Jayson Stanley (Atlanta Falcons), long snapper Nick Moore (New Orleans Saints) and defensive lineman Jay Hayes (Pittsburgh Steelers) also landed free-agent deals, according to  social media reports.