Javon Bullard takes his defensive playmaking to the NFL

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard (22) prepares for a defensive snap during the first quarter against UT Martin at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 2, 2023, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 48-7. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

MOBILE, Ala. – Despite rules changes that have softened the NFL, for better or worse, there’s something to be said about having an enforcer in the secondary.

Former Georgia safety Javon Bullard feels he has an easy sell to teams: I love tackling, and you’ll always find me around the ball.

“I’ll make your defense better, man,” Bullard said. “I’ll make not only your team better, but your city better.”

Bullard is participating in the Senior Bowl this week, the first step of his lengthy pre-draft process that he’ll hope only bolsters his reputation entering the professional ranks. A Milledgeville native, Bullard has played an instrumental role in Georgia’s defensive prowess over the past several seasons.

In his three seasons, Bullard – who arrived at Georgia as a three-star recruit – had 113 tackles, 3.5 sacks (all in 2022) and four interceptions. He was defensive MVP of the 2022 Peach Bowl – a College Football Playoff semifinals victory over Ohio State – and won the same honor in the ensuing national championship game, when he recorded two interceptions during Georgia’s 65-7 walloping of TCU.

Pro Football Focus graded Bullard the country’s best safety in zone coverage this past season (88.8).

“It’s my preparation and God-given ability,” Bullard said. “I trust in my teammates, and they trust in me. Just love for the game, man. If you’re good to this game, it’s going to be good to you.”

Bullard has room to improve his draft standing. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Bullard as his No. 4 safety behind Tyler Nubin (Minnesota), Kamren Kinchens (Miami) and Jaden Hicks (Washington State). There’s a chance there won’t be a safety selected in the first round this year.

But Bullard could solidify himself in the Day 2 range (second and third rounds) if he fares well in the coming months. He’s had uneven practices thus far in Mobile, including getting beat by former teammate Ladd McConkey in 1-on-1 drills Wednesday. After the Senior Bowl, Bullard will test at the NFL Scouting Combine next month and could further help his case at Georgia’s Pro Day on March 13.

“Complete player, dog,” McConkey said of Bullard. “He’s a great player on the field. He can play the slot, he can play high safety. But he’s an even better person. I love him to death, and that’s my brother.”

Bullard measured at 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds. He acknowledged that his size has been criticized, but noted: “I can’t knock what God did. It’s enabled me to get this far, so I (can’t see that as) a disadvantage.”

Working in Bullard’s favor, he’s always going full throttle and his motor has sometimes covered for his lack of pure speed. He’s an extremely intelligent player with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He’ll allow defensive coordinators to get creative with how he’s used, and versatility in safeties is a must in today’s landscape. He’s a reliable run defender, which traces back to his instincts and propensity for hitting.

“You can’t play this game without being physical,” Bullard said. “There ain’t no way around it. The physicality is in the game. I take pride in that, and I’m always going to take pride in that. I can’t really describe what it is to be a physical player. Either you got it or you don’t.”

Since 2021, the Bulldogs have had four safeties drafted: Richard LeCounte (fifth round, 2021), Mark Webb (seventh round, 2021), Lewis Cine (first round, 2022) and Christopher Smith II (fifth round, 2023). Bullard and Tykee Smith will join that list in April. The former is expected to be the highest-drafted Bulldogs defender after cornerback Kamari Lassiter.

“Playing under (Georgia coach Kirby Smart) helped me out tremendously,” Bullard said. “Without him, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Hat’s off to him and all the things he’s done for me. … He’s told me just be Javon Bullard. Trust in myself, you’re good enough.”