Kirby Smart has done a lot of the groundwork. He’s recruited them, built them up through the best facilities and coaching available, put them in position to showcase their skills, exposed them to the narcotic habit of winning. Now, all that’s left is to say their name on either April 28 or 29.
The Falcons currently hold the 10th overall pick, with much riding on Sunday’s finale against New Orleans. With a loss they might rise as high as seventh in the draft order. Do something silly like winning, and they could drop as low as 16th. Wherever they fall, quality will be waiting. If it happens to be already comfortable wearing red and black, so much the better.
There’s been a long-held assumption out there that the Falcons were anti-Bulldog, that they actively avoided drafting players out of Athens, as if they were the anchovies on the draft-day pizza. Such a prejudice is hard to fathom, even for an oft-addled franchise. We’ll just call it a half century of coincidence.
The numbers: In the 56 drafts since the Falcons founding, they’ve taken nine players from Georgia. And none in the first two rounds. Their two third-rounders – linebacker Akeem Dent (2011) and defensive back Scott Woerner (1981) – were not quite ring-of-honor material. Dent put together a six-year career in Atlanta and Philadelphia, and Woerner made a far greater impact in the USFL.
For those keeping score – and of course the most dedicated college fan does, and is mindful of any slight – the Falcons have drafted an equal number from Monday’s opponent, Alabama. Three of those nine, though, have been first-round commitments. Receivers Calvin Ridley (2018) and Julio Jones (2011) and defensive tackle Mike Pitts (1983). All have been significant contributors to the cause.
So, should the Falcons be moved to dip into the Crimson Tide for help that would be fine, too (although the best of the lot, offensive tackle Evan Neal likely will be gone before they pick).
Naturally, just because they’re Bulldogs doesn’t mean they’re going to lead any NFL team to a title. Better they lead their college team to one first.
Some franchises have flourished with a heavy Georgia influence. Nobody has taken more Bulldogs in the first round since 2000 than New England, and the Patriots have done OK. They would ask for no refund on the likes of defensive tackle Richard Seymour or tight end Ben Watson or even running back Sony Michel. Another first-round pick, Isaiah Wynn, along with center David Andrews, a rookie free-agent signee in 2015, man the offensive line of the 10-6 Pats. The same team that’s learning to live without Tom Brady with the help of a quarterback from Alabama.
Others have yet to see a glorious return on their investment. The New York Giants today have six former Bulldogs on their roster. Which means they have two more Georgia players than wins.
The two leading tacklers for the six-win Chicago Bears – linebackers Alec Ogletree and Roquan Smith – are former Dogs. Their rookie quarterback is half a Dog, Justin Fields. Their impact was hardly immediate in the standings. Stupid team game.
The Georgia player comes without any quick-turnaround guarantee, no more than any other top program’s son. But you have to look around at the fierce way these Bulldogs today play defense and conclude that taking a chance on nearly any of them wouldn’t be the worst idea.