Familiar story: Stetson Bennett hopes to convince teams he’s worth betting on

INDIANAPOLIS — Stetson Bennett was the small-town kid who first wore his U.S. Postal Service hat at a football camp in Valdosta, hoping to stand out. He later earned his famed “The Mailman” moniker.

Then, he was the once-forgotten recruit who ultimately left the University of Georgia known by everyone as a two-time national champion and quite possibly the best quarterback in school history.

Since then, life hasn’t been so glamorous for Bennett. But he’s begun his path to the NFL draft, hoping to topple low external expectations once again.

“The way I see it, you only get one of these lives,” Bennett said at the NFL combine Friday. “I’m playing football. So I’m going to try to do it to the best of my ability.”

Bennett’s pre-draft process had a rocky start: After declining his Senior Bowl invitation – a decision that event director Jim Nagy and several evaluators disagreed with – Bennett was arrested in Dallas for public intoxication Jan. 29, 20 days after Georgia beat TCU 65-7 in his final collegiate game.

The Dallas police released their arrest report earlier this week. It detailed that Bennett was walking around a gated area near downtown, and police responded to a suspicious-person call at 6:15 a.m.

Bennett “was observed walking further back in the gated area to hide behind a brick wall by a random apartment to possibly avoid arresting officers’ detection,” according to the report.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest, Bennett apologized and shared that teams have asked him about the incident during his meetings in Indianapolis.

“It was a mistake that everybody is aware of,” Bennett said. “I understand why that can’t happen. I’ve talked to coaches about it, talked to GMs. My family, that’s who I felt worse about. I felt like I let them down. No matter where I go now, even without all this, you know, I have an obligation. I’m the fourth (Stetson Bennett). Can’t do that if your last name is Bennett.”

Bennett wasn’t asked about the specific teams with which he’s met, but he shared some details from his conversation with the Buccaneers.

“I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “They asked me some questions wondering about the incident. I answered them. They asked me about football. They asked me about life, trying to figure out who I was.”

As for his NFL prospects, Bennett returns to the underdog role. He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, an immediate concern for NFL teams. He lacks optimal arm strength (though to his credit, he showed zip on some tight-window throws in 2022). Bennett also is 25, which presumes less room for growth.

There won’t be questions about his statistical production. While his 2021 season had its challenging points, and many called for Georgia to bench Bennett throughout its first title season, the 2022 campaign wasn’t so controversial.

Bennett began the season with a marvelous performance against Oregon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, one he called the best in his career. He ended the season with an even better showing against TCU in the College Football Playoff Championship game, one he would again call his best.

Overall, Bennett threw for 4,128 yards and completed 68.1% of his passes. He threw 27 touchdowns against seven picks. He was sacked only nine times in 15 games (a credit to his elusiveness and his offensive line). He finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and made the cut as a finalist who was invited to New York City.

It was an all-time collegiate career. Bennett will be cited for ages as the ultimate success story. That earns him unlimited credibility in the SEC world, but NFL teams care much more about his physical limitations.

Bennett, asked about transitioning from illustrious college starter to an NFL team’s backup, said:

“My obligation to the team that I’m drafted to is to be the best player for that (team), to learn to play football,” he said. “Whatever is asked of me, my job when I get there – regardless, I mean, you have to be the best player to play. And I know there’s probably more to that here, but at the end of the day, that’s all you can control.”

There’s nothing Bennett can do to atone for his build and age. He can only hope to sell teams on qualities within his control. Teammates have always glowed about Bennett. He’s been deemed a diligent worker – his results are evidence of that. Coaches are sure to appreciate his story and how he’s consistently maximized himself.

“Stetson, I feel like he’s going to do Stetson things,” former Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington said Friday. “That’s showing out. Going out and showing the doubters actually what he can do. Stetson will do Stetson things. He’s a hell of an athlete, a hell of a player.”

Bennett will work out at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday with the other quarterbacks. He’ll complete the athletic tests and passing drills with the NFL world watching.

“I’ve got confidence in my abilities,” he said. “Everybody asks that question (where you rank yourself among quarterbacks), there’s so much more to playing quarterback, like the people around you. There are different offenses, different checks, different motions. Whatever you’re asked to do, that’s all you can do in the offense right? And then you have your physical ability, and a lot of people have physical ability.

“But especially in the quarterback position, just the mental acuity and how you can handle certain situations. You can’t really measure that. So I have confidence in my ability, but also all these dudes are players, too.”

Bennett is one of 12 Bulldogs participating in the NFL combine. Georgia will host its Pro Day on March 15, another opportunity for Bennett to work out and meet with evaluators. He would become the 15th Bulldogs quarterback to be drafted. He would join Jake Fromm (fifth round, 2020) as signal-callers drafted since Georgia hired Kirby Smart in December 2015.

The NFL draft is April 27-29.