Three Bulldogs expect early-round calls in NFL Draft

Junior cornerback Eric Stokes (third from left) is one of the most intriguing prospects in this week's NFL Draft. He was one of only a handful of players to record a sub-4.3-second 40-yards dash. Stokes is one of five Georgia defensive backs being considered for NFL rosters. The others include (left to right) Mark Webb, Richard LeCounte, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel. They worked out together for NFL scouts at UGA's Pro Day in March. (Photo from UGA Athletics)
Junior cornerback Eric Stokes (third from left) is one of the most intriguing prospects in this week's NFL Draft. He was one of only a handful of players to record a sub-4.3-second 40-yards dash. Stokes is one of five Georgia defensive backs being considered for NFL rosters. The others include (left to right) Mark Webb, Richard LeCounte, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel. They worked out together for NFL scouts at UGA's Pro Day in March. (Photo from UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS – Georgia almost always has a strong NFL Draft presence. Traditionally, the Bulldogs have been among the best programs in America at having players picked by the NFL.

ExploreTake a look at D. Orlando Ledbetter's draft predictions

To date, 333 Bulldogs have heard their name called during the draft, according to UGA. Officially, that’s 337 players selected. However, a couple of players in the old days heard their name called more than once. That stands as 14th all time among all colleges, according to DraftHistory.com.

Since 2000, Georgia has had 109 players selected in the draft. That’s tied with Florida for fifth for number of players drafted and first-rounders (24).

You’ll note that’s approximately five draftees a year this century. That’s probably about what the Bulldogs should expect this year. But nothing is certain in the always unpredictable draft.

The first round commences Thursday night, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday and fourth through seventh on Saturday.

What is readily apparent is Georgia is not going have a bunch of first-rounders. But odds are good that Azeez Ojulari will be a first-day selection. Depending on which handicapper one references, the over-under on selection number for Ojulari ranges between 20 and 30, which is middle to late first round. There was pre-draft chatter about a knee issue, but Ojulari certainly didn’t seem affected as he racked up three sacks, forced two fumbles and recorded a safety against No. 9 Cincinnati in his last college appearance.

“I do think Azeez will be the first player off the board,” said Brent Rollins, a Georgia-based analyst for Pro Football Focus (PFF). “I could see him going as high as 11 to the Giants, but I don’t see him falling past the Ravens at 31. His measurables from a height-weight standpoint (6-foot-2, 249 pounds) don’t fall in line with highly-drafted edge-rushers. But he’s got really long arms (34½ inches) and our pass-rush grade for him, compared to recent pass-rush classes, was behind only Chase Young and Josh Allen and Nick Bosa. That level of productivity against an entirely SEC schedule outside of the bowl game, I don’t see him falling out of the first round.”

Defensive backs Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes almost surely will be the next off the board. At one time, both had been mentioned as possible first-round calls. In the last couple weeks, however, most mock drafts and betting houses have them lasting into the second round in what is characterized as a very deep draft for DBs.

The majority of those have the junior Campbell going just ahead of the redshirt junior Stokes. However, NFL.com this week rated Stokes as the fifth-best prospect in the entire draft in terms of overall value to a team and ability to contribute quickly.

In many ways, they’re competing against each other.

“They are,” Rollins said. “If a team chooses Campbell first, they’re choosing his athletic profile more than the production piece. That is, on film, Campbell’s moves are much more fluid, more of what you think of with elite corners. But he didn’t have the consistent production that Stokes has.”

Georgia offensive lineman Ben Cleveland.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Georgia offensive lineman Ben Cleveland. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Also, keep an eye on big Ben Cleveland. The senior offensive lineman from Toccoa impressed scouts with both his verified size (6-6, 354) and a shockingly fast 40-yard time (4.85 seconds) at UGA’s Pro Day. A team with a great need on the interior line might snatch up Cleveland earlier than expected. Same thing for junior Trey Hill, whose size (6-3½, 319) and ability to play either center or guard makes him particularly valuable. Hill is only 20 years old and might be Georgia’s best bet in this class to play an extended NFL career.

“I think Georgia will have four guys in the first three rounds,” said Rollins, whose full-time job is college professor. “I think one of the guys who might sneak up there a little bit is (cornerback) DJ Daniel. He’s got some good tape, and his career numbers in sheer pass coverage are actually better than both those other two guys. He was just hurt last year.”

The majority of Georgia’s prospects this year come with as many question marks as they do check marks, however. That’s the case for defensive end Malik Herring, a three-year starter for the Bulldogs who tore an ACL in the Senior Bowl. Then there’s safety Richard LeCounte, who still wasn’t fully recovered from a motorcycle accident during predraft workouts. That accident wiped out the second half of a senior season that was showing All-America potential. Likewise, senior inside linebacker Monty Rice’s chronic foot issues the last two seasons likely tainted the opinions of some evaluators.

But, as has long been said, it takes only one team, one executive, to fall in love with a player’s film or their intellect and decide to select them.

Meanwhile, the draft is not the only way to a professional career. Many free agents have made rosters and gone on to long careers, just like many draftees have been cut and never played professionally It often comes down to timing, luck and the right situation.

Here is a quick look at Georgia’s 11 potential draftees for 2021, in alphabetical order:

  • Tyson Campbell, CB, 6-1, 193, Jr., Plantation, Fla. – Scouts love his tall frame and blazing speed (4.33 seconds in 40 yards). Was not as dominant on field in college as many had hoped when he signed as a 5-star prospect. But Campbell tested well and projects as an eventual starter.
  • Ben Cleveland, OL, 6-6, 354, Sr., Toccoa – Cleveland came up woefully short on his stated goal of breaking the NFL Combine’s bench-press record. But scouts were impressed with all his other measurables, not the least of those was size, for which there is no substitute.
  • DJ Daniel, DB, 6-0, 195, Sr., Griffin – Don’t be surprised if Daniel possibly gets a mid-to-late-round call. An 11-game starter for the Bulldogs in 2019, injuries limited his play significantly as a senior. And while his speed is not elite, he tested extremely well in drillwork and fundamentals.
  • Malik Herring, DE, 6-3, 275, Sr., Forsyth – Herring’s size made him a longshot at the start, then he suffered an ACL tear playing in the Senior Bowl. But Herring’s strongest allies are his game tape and his coaches’ testimony. He’ll at least get a free-agent shot somewhere.
  • Trey Hill, OL, 6-3½ , 319, Sr., Warner Robins – Hill has the type of size and skills that generally translate to a long NFL career. Likely could have improved his stock with another college season, but he graduated in three years and was ready to move on
  • Richard LeCounte, DB, 5-10½, 196, Sr., Riceboro – LeCounte was playing like a first-team All-American before a motorcycle accident sidelined him after the fifth game. He’s still experiencing effects from that accident, but his ball skills and understanding of defensive concepts will get him free-agent looks, if not a late-round call.
  • Tre McKitty, TE, 6-3½, 246, Sr., Wesley Chapel, Fla. – McKitty transferred to UGA from FSU with the hopes of improving his NFL stock while also playing for a championship. While McKitty improved considerably as a blocker, he had just six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. But he definitely has NFL skills.
  • Azeez Ojulari, OLB, 6-2, 249, RSo., Marietta – There’s no questioning Ojulari’s productivity in two years of work. That included 14.5 sacks and 73 hurries. He’s undersized to be on the line of scrimmage in the NFL, but concerns of an knee injury that occurred in high school and led to a redshirt his first season at Georgia are typical pre-draft confusion tactics. Some team will take him early.
  • Monty Rice, ILB, 6-0, 233, Sr., Huntsville – The key for Rice will be proving he’s healthy. If he is, he’ll be as good a linebacker as the SEC can offer up this year.
  • Eric Stokes, CB, 6-1, 194, RJr., Covington – The actual number of NFL players that can run a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash is considerably less than is generally thought. Stokes not only ran a televised, laser-timed 4.2, he duplicated it at least three times in pre-draft workouts. In his last season at Georgia, Stokes’ ball skills caught up with his athleticism with a team-best four interceptions and 94 yards and a TD on returns. This is a deep draft for DBs, but Stokes won’t sit long.
  • Mark Webb, DB, 6-1½, 207, Sr., Philadelphia – After signing with Georgia as a wide receiver, Webb converted to defensive back and played in 50 games for the Bulldogs, almost all of them at “Star,” or nickelback. That position is not common but is becoming more prevalent in the NFL. Whether he’s drafted or not, Webb is a good bet to make a roster due to his versatility and potential to excel on special teams.

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