Georgia’s Kelee Ringo sets sights on creating more memorable turnovers in NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — Kelee Ringo orchestrated one of the iconic plays in Georgia history. His pick-six against Alabama was the great relief, a catch and run that allowed Bulldogs fans to exhale and celebrate that long-awaited, desperately desired national championship in January 2022.

Ringo earned Athens immortality for that one. No matter how many titles Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs win, that was the first one. That one ended the four-decade drought, and Ringo was their Mariano Rivera. That win sparked what likely will be viewed as the greatest era in Bulldogs history.

Now, Ringo begins his professional journey. He spoke Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, site of the aforementioned championship game, moving forward with a career he hopes creates more memorable moments, maybe even a few more pick sixes.

“As soon as we stepped into Lucas Oil Stadium, man, just thinking about success that I’ve had here previously,” Ringo said, referencing his interception off Alabama’s Bryce Young. “And of course being able to perform on Friday (during position workouts) as well.”

Ringo is a complex case. He’s an example of the big cornerback who is becoming increasingly desirable in the NFL. And at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds with excellent speed, his specific profile is rare. The play didn’t always match the physical gifts, though, and that’s why some are skeptical Ringo should be a first-round pick.

NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah ranked Ringo No. 45 on his board. He praised Ringo’s athletic ability but noted he “wouldn’t rule out a move to safety” eventually. Jeremiah elaborated on Ringo during his conference call last week.

“Kelee is going to be – I don’t want to say polarizing, I just think he is going to fit certain teams,” Jeremiah said. “He is not going to necessarily fit others. I think there’s a real chance he goes in the first round, especially when he puts on a show when he runs. Track background. He is going to be 6-2, 200 pounds. He is going to fly.

“I’m curious to see him in some of the change-of-direction stuff. He is a little rigid. He is a little bit tight. I think if you are a cover-3 team, you are going to love him. He is going to fit beautifully with that, and he is physical and tough. He can find and play the ball. He just has to be in phase to be able to find and play it. Sometimes he is a little too much separation because he is a little sticky and a little bit tight.

“I like him as player. You watch him as a gunner. You watch him on kickoff. That tells you a lot about a guy of that stature, that type of recruit, that type of reputation as a defensive player to not only be on teams, but to be playing with maximum effort and be a good player on special teams. I think it tells you a lot about him and his makeup. I think he there’s a real chance he goes in the first round. He won’t get out of the early part of the second round if that were to be the case, if he doesn’t go round one.”

To Jeremiah’s point, Ringo goes full throttle, and many of his flaws are coachable. The growing pains could be worth the payoff.

Ringo, a Washington native, has been working with former Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who’s helped him learn concepts and technique and prepared him for NFL life.

“How smart he is, how he slows the game down,” Ringo said, sharing what he appreciates about Sherman. “He makes things look easier with how smart he is. Seeing what’s going to happen and what an offensive coordinator is trying to do.”

Ringo said he hopes to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.35 seconds Friday, which would put him in rare company. Since 2000, Patrick Peterson – a player Ringo models himself after – is the only cornerback weighing 210 pounds to run in the 4.3s (he was a 4.38). Ringo could emerge a big winner from this week if he joins that category.

“They’re getting a freak athlete, first and foremost,” former Georgia safety Christopher Smith said Thursday when asked what a team would get in Ringo. “Super fast, super big, can jump with anybody. Great man coverage guy and a guy ready to learn. He’s a really humble guy, as well. He’s a great, great person and great kid, and they’re getting one of the best corners in the draft.”

Reliving his college career, Ringo said: “(My time at Georgia) helped me a lot; I feel like the standard at the University of Georgia is like no other. The preparation under coach Smart, the standard he holds us to every day. … To be able to grow from that and knowing every single day, it feels like a tryout at the University of Georgia.”

Beyond his athletic ability, teams want to see production. Ringo showed potential as a ballhawk: Of his four career interceptions, three came in timely moments against premier quarterbacks in this year’s draft. While his interception off Young was most notable, Ringo also picked off Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Kentucky’s Will Levis in 2022. Both interceptions came off deep throws toward the end zone.

Ringo said his performance against Tennessee might have been his best overall. On his interception, Ringo ran stride-for-stride with receiver Cedric Tillman and looked like a pass catcher himself when he intercepted Hooker in the end zone. It prevented the then-No. 1 Volunteers from trimming into Georgia’s 21-6 lead just before halftime.

The interception off Levis came midway through the second quarter, when Kentucky was assembled a 13-play drive and seemed poise to at least tie the score at 3-3. Levis threw toward the end zone, and Ringo snagged the ball on the move inside the 5-yard line. Georgia went on to win 16-6.

If Ringo’s best play appears more consistently, he’ll be among the top defensive backs to come out of this class. It’s all up to him.

“My determination and competitiveness (stands out),” Ringo said. “I feel like I fight against adversity like no other. I feel like I have room to grow, especially with how young I am. I feel like my upside is definitely there, 100%.”